Saturday, 9 July 2011


I like the entry on 'venery' in Fowler's Modern English Usage: "The existence of homonyms, one synonomous with hunting, the other with sexual indulgence, make it necessary to provide against ambiguity in using either." Well, here, let us be clear, we mean the former and not the latter. The 'venery game' is the game of finding the right collective for beasts, primarily those which lend themselves to being hunted. If T H White is to be believed, which mostly he isn't, learning the correct venery terms constituted about fifty per cent of a mediaeval education.

Anyway, last Friday there were nineteen swans swimming together on the western side of the Estuary near the stone steps upriver from Starcross. This is the time of year when swans group and there have been much larger groupings in past years. Nevertheless nineteen is a goodly number. They were in grand procession which is how they mostly appear to be.

Swans have always been a challenge to players of the venery game. In the air it is, of course, a 'skein' of swans but there is no consensus when it comes to swans on the water. There are many suggestions on the internet as elsewhere but I am happiest with my own contribution to the game, "a pomp of swans".
'Pomp' is a fine word. Its roots would have it mean first and foremost a grand procession. What could be closer to the vision in which I was delighting upriver of Starcross last Friday? "A pomp of swans" : that's what it was and don't forget that it was I who coined this particular collective! Or are we being pompous again?

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