The Gnome was telling someone about his favourite cartoon the other day. It was by Ed McLachlan, a regular contributor to the now defunct Punch magazine, although you can still see his work (and the Gnome recommends you do) in various publications to this day.
So enthusiastic was the Gnome about this cartoon, a framed print was presented to him on his birthday by his work colleagues. Now the thing is, the joke in itself isn’t that funny, but it took the Gnome so damned long to work it out, it has stuck with him ever since.
The set up is simple. In a small rowing boat close to shore, a Swedish man is approaching a Swedish woman, lips puckered with amorous intent. Now the Gnome immediately hears you ask how their nationality can be ascertained so exactly. Is there some graphical technique immediately bringing into mind Swedish folk? Is the boat a Volvo? Does it have several unused screws and a small ‘L’-shaped piece of metal with holes in it left over in the gunwales suggesting it was self assembled from an IKEA kit? No. The alleged Swedishness of the occupants was neatly handled with a little linguistic stereotyping in the caption
“Alone at last Miss Søderstrøm…”
So what’s funny? Exactly what the Gnome thought. He looked at the boat again, checked the fine detail of the occupants and all he could see was a lecherous Swede about to have his wicked way.
It was only after about 5 minutes his eyes moved to the shoreline where, high up on the cliff, hundreds of lemmings were about to interrupt this passionate scene with their suicide leap.
Childish perhaps, but it tickled the Gnome mightily, particularly after missing the joke for so long. Anyway, the reason for this rambling introduction is to ask a question… What is the collective noun for lemmings? When explaining the cartoon to his colleague the Gnome realised he had no idea and had to fall back on the use of ‘a herd of lemmings’ to explain what was hurtling towards the edge of the cliff.
A quick search on the internet shows even the Oxford English Dictionary http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/collective/?view=uk has no answer, although one should expect to hear the Gnome use the phrase ‘a bellowing of bullfinches’ or ‘a psittacosis of parrots’ at the earliest opportunity…