Craig is fond of words, but not just any bunch of letters strung together. Only those with flare make the cut. This thing is a longstanding affair. His first love was words that become swears when they cross over from one language to another. In fifth grade, his favourite joke was barking the word “seal” in French class, smirking as he assured Madame that he was just practicing his accent. Phoque phoque phoque, over and over like zoological Tourette’s.
Later, he broadened his horizon to include words with filthy portions, funny chunks, rude bits or crass onomatopoeia when one part is chopped out to stand on its own. Bushwhack, fumble, butter, cummerbund; the letter “u” a universal socket, the joint that screws onto just about anything to make it hilarious.
Now, hair receding and belly swelling into a minor paunch, Craig has a thing for the nomenclature of animal groups. Outwardly, this comes across as quirky nerdism; privately, he frames this affection as refinement, that childish smirk aging into a knowing smile. In particular, he loves the words for groups of creatures no one really talks about. Creatures that exist off the collective radar, so rare that it would never occur to people there are enough to form a crowd, or so disgusting on their own the only thing worse than one is imagining a whole bunch hanging out together.
Craig doesn’t think snails travel in packs and yet there is a word for when they gang together – an escargotoire of snails. Sure, they gather at human dinnertime, loitering beneath blankets of butter and fronds of parsley, so perhaps it’s a portmanteau word for “escargot abattoir”. Perhaps there is a snail proverb about how if you see other snails on your trail, you know the end is nigh. Today: slithering through the garden; tomorrow: baking in dairy fat beneath the broiler.
It’s a sleepy day at the office. Last night, Craig dreamed of penguins for hours. His backyard was taken over by an aquarium installed for “very serious research purposes”, not so he could hang out with a penguin. But that’s what they were doing: hanging out. In fact, there was a whole parade of penguins (did you know that is the group name? also, a rookery, colony or parcel), and by chance he befriended one guy in particular. The penguin was dirty-white, like penguin mixed with pelican. Together, Craig and the bird (so weird, that penguins are birds) swam in the tank, sleek and easy. Craig figured that if he could hang out and do penguin things, maybe penguins could do people things, too, like join him for lunch on dry land. He thought of robins spearing worms from the lawn and wondered if the penguin would like butter-poached snails, and whether it would peck at its slice of dessert or just paddle at the frosting with its flippers. The dream tapered into groggy morning just as Craig was about to invite the penguin to dine, a bit nervous it wouldn’t remember its manners and would tuck its napkin into its collar all wrong.
A foolish dream, sure, but fuel for a day of workplace procrastination. Squandering company time, Craig uses the dictionary to brush up on animal groupings while case files accumulate on his desk. A backlog — perfect. All the better to hide behind while he skives off his proper tasks.
A bunch of butterflies is a rabble, which sounds too rough for their delicate wings. Once, he got into an argument with another third-grader over pronunciation. They were plagiarizing a book report on butterflies from a library encyclopaedia and she insisted it referred to the “minute scales on each wing,” which, to Craig, was plainly a measure of time. Surely she was reading things wrong. Their class hadn’t got to heteronyms or homonyms yet, and Craig huffed and snatched the book after the girl repeated the sentence a third time, humbled and confused to discover she was right. My-noot scales.
A gathering of donkeys is a pace of asses.
What, then, are the office ladies, the menagerie of bitter crows and snapping bitches penned in cubicles around him? United as “office ladies”, that’s their only common feature — passing eight hours per day in communal space. The way they bicker and balk against coexisting in harmony, scuffing a blast radius of personal space, each one surely descends from her own species. Queuing at the microwave clutching frozen lunches, the ladies prattle and smile and pretend they weren’t shit-talking one another an hour ago, broken into smaller groups at their desks.
Are they a clutch?
A yarn of office ladies…