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Those crazy measure words!


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Well, when I first started learning Mandarin I just couldn't comprehend why they invented so many of those crazy measure words. Now I'm beginning to realize English is just as crazy! Check this out:

From: http://science.howstuffworks.com/22-peculiar-names-for-groups-of-animals.htm

Have you ever heard the expression, "a gaggle of geese?" These names for groups of animals are pretty peculiar, too.

1. A shrewdness of apes

2. A battery of barracudas

3. A kaleidoscope of butterflies

4. A quiver of cobras

5. A murder of crows

6. A convocation of eagles

7. A charm of finches

8. A skulk of foxes

9. A troubling of goldfish

10. A smack of jellyfish

11. A mob of kangaroos

12. An exaltation of larks

13. A troop of monkeys

14. A parliament of owls

15. An ostentation of peacocks

16. A rookery of penguins

17. A prickle of porcupines

18. An unkindness of ravens

19. A shiver of sharks

20. A pod of whales

21. A descent of woodpeckers

22. A zeal of zebras

P.S. As a native English speaker I'm embarrassed to say I only knew 4 of the 22. Measure words, ya just gotta love em!

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yea, besides being made up for most of them, these are names given to groups of animals, an as such are not english "measure words". That would be words like " x sheets of paper" or "x bottles of beer", but even then they do not really fit the same idea presented linguistically of "measure words" in Chinese or other languages.

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I never realised there were so many group nouns for animals, so I had a quick check on the internet and found this list just for birds:

A dissimulation of birds

A dole of doves

An exaltation of larks

A fall of woodcocks

A flight of swallows [or doves, goshawks, or cormorants]

A gaggle of geese [wild or domesticated]

A host of sparrows

A kettle of hawks [riding a thermal]

A murmuration of starlings

A murder of crows

A muster of storks

A nye of pheasants [on the ground]

An ostentation of peacocks

A paddling of ducks [on the water]

A parliament of owls

A party of jays

A peep of chickens

A pitying of turtledoves

A raft of ducks

A rafter of turkeys

A siege of herons

A skein of geese [in flight]

A sord of mallards

A spring of teal

A tidings of magpies

A trip of dotterel

An unkindness of ravens

A watch of nightingales

A wedge of swans [or geese, flying in a "V"]

A wisp of snipe

For birds, I knew a flock of birds and a gaggle of geese, I had no idea of the others. Clearly one can get by in English by using the generic "flock" for birds. Does this mean I can get by in Chinese with just "ge"? :)

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we've had this discussion amongst fellow students many times. we usually get these

examples of english measure words: deck of cards and suit of clothes. thing is, they're

not really measure words in the chinese sense, but rather in the english sense of taking

a measure of something.

the english measure words are all nouns themselves, standing for a measure or collection

of something else. and in the case of suit of clothes or deck of cards, the measure is

not just a collection of random items that happen to be the same or similar, they go

together for a purpose. a suit, a deck, a flight (of stairs), is more than just a bunch of

the other thing. and the collected noun thingies all follow "of," so i guess that makes them

prepositional modifiers...(or something, grammar wizards please advise.)

the chinese measure words mostly don't serve that function. i like to think of them as

classifiers or categorizers (trying to think of a better word here). the only real function

they serve, as i sees it, is to clarify (hey, how about clarifiers?) which freakin' noun you're

actually talking about, since so many of the words are the same/similar.

but then, i could be wrong.

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not really measure words in the chinese sense, but rather in the english sense of taking a measure of something.

But this is not always the case such as in a pair of pants or a pair of sock.

Also they may not be the same thing but they still present the same problem in terms of learning...you have to know what goes with what otherwise in daily life you sound weird and there is many times less logic than in the english whereas there is some good consistency in the Chinese allowing you to guess many times.

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A lot more can be found at http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/collective/?view=uk, which uses the whole 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary to find them. But note: it also says "Many will be familiar but others will be unheard of, deriving from 15th century witticisms or literary imagination, and some are simply archaic or erroneous. " Some of them have never really been used. What collective term could there be for Chinese language learners? A frustration?

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