Printable Version
Pronunciation: mêr-mêr-ray-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The act of murmuring. 2. (Rare) A flock (of starlings).

Notes: The words that are commonly classified as "collective nouns" are actually poetic substitutions for flock or herd. Such are a murmuration of starlings, a murder of crows, a gaggle of geese. We may still say "a flock of starlings, crows or geese". Collective nouns in this sense are another example of the playfulness of language.

In Play: Murmurs and murmuring are the more popular words expressing the action of murmuring, but for those of you who don't follow popular trends, here is a departure from the ordinary: "Lucinda loved listening to the murmuration of the trees in her garden at the slightest breeze." However, if you are a collector of collective nouns in the colloquial sense of the word, you can use today's words to represent a flock of starlings: "A murmuration of starlings has taken up residence in my mulberry tree.'

Word History: Today's word is based on the verb murmur, which came to English meaning "express discontent by grumbling"—exactly what it meant in French. French inherited the verb from its ancestor, Latin. French converted it from Latin murmurare "to murmur, mutter", based on the noun murmur "a hum, muttering, rushing". Latin and many other Proto-Indo-European languages may have doubled the word mor- "sea, ocean", something known for its murmuration. That theory is supported by other Indo-European languages, where we find Sanskrit murmurah "crackling of a fire", Greek mormyrein "to roar, boil", and Lithuanian murmlénti "to murmur". The other suggestion is that the word was created onomatopoetically, i.e. by sound imitation. (Suzanne Russell recommended today's Good Word after seeing a murmuration of starlings in her yard.)

Dr. Goodword,

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