“An Exaltation of Larks”


A very special book beckons to me from the shelves, An Exaltation of Larks, the fascinating collection by James Lipton, first published in 1968.  Lipton, an American writer, poet, composer and actor, traced the tradition in the English language back to the 15th century when groups of animals, fish and birds associated with hunting were given names to epitomize salient characteristics. Young gentlemen were taught the precise designation of their quarry. We are familiar with some: a pride of lions, a plague of locusts and a litter of puppies. The magic of this book is in the hundreds of collective nouns that identify the essence of the group to the reader for the first time — and the witty engravings by Grandville, a 19th century French lithographer, that accompany most of the terms and the text.


Here are a few groups of birds to whet your appetite:

A parliament of owls.

An ostentation of peacocks.

A banquet of pheasants.

A murder of crows.

A siege of herons.

A brood of hens.

An exaltation of larks.

Skylarks climb high together into the heavens while uttering their song — thus the poetic comment of exaltation.  In the interesting introduction to the book, Lipton traces the history from the 15th century to the present. He writes, “Obviously, at one time or another, every one of these terms had to be invented — and it is equally obvious that much imagination, wit and semantic ingenuity has always gone into their invention. The terms are too full of charm and poetry to suppose that their inventors were unaware of the possibilities open to them , and unconscious of the fun and beauty they were creating. What we have in these terms is clearly the end result of a game that amateur semanticists have been playing for over five hundred years.”


Part III of the book may be the most fun for readers since Lipton drew upon the Book of St. Albans, compiled in 1486, which included seventy references to people and life in the 15th century in addition to the birds, animals and fish for the hunt. The social references, scattered through the St. Albans book, are filled with wit and commentary about the manners and morals of the day. The lively, intriguing engravings accompanying these human figures capture the meaning and nuances in each term.  Here are samples from the 15th century:


A Herd of Harlots

A Converting of Preachers

A Doctrine of Doctors

An Incredulity of Cuckolds

A Riffraff of Knaves

A Drift of Fishermen

An Eloquence of Lawyers

A Worship of Writers (Ah, I love that.)


Lipton closes his delightful book with a challenge to the reader to join the “game” and create clever terms that illuminate intrinsic qualities of a group. He says, about playing the game, “like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence. I found that spectators didn’t stay spectators for long. If you should feel the urge, there are more brushes in the pail.”



An Exaltation of Larks  is available online at Amazon.com

Joyce S. Anderson …………………………………………………………………………………

Cell Phone Madness!

Are you ready to take a test?  Okay, here goes:

Do you own a cell phone?

Do you keep it with you in your car?

Do you answer the phone while you are driving?

Do you call someone on the phone while you are driving?

Do you turn corners with one hand while holding your phone with the other?

Do you have a head set for your telephone?

Do you conduct business on your telephone?

Do you call someone as soon as you leave the house in the morning?  For business?

For pleasure?

Do you ever argue with anyone on the telephone while you are driving?

Do you ever get upset during a telephone conversation while you are driving?

Do you know if New Jersey has a law against driving while using a hand held cell phone?

Oh — by the way — do you ever drink, eat, comb your hair, read, write or put on make up while driving?


In the movie, “Network”, Peter Finch the television executive sticks his head out of his apartment window and shouts, “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  This scene flashed through my mind as I walked along Burroughs Avenue in Linwood one peaceful autumn morning and reached the corner. While I waited to cross, I watched driver after driver turn the corner from Oak Avenue onto Burroughs with one hand —  while talking on the phone held in the other hand. I felt like Peter Finch. I wanted to yell at all those drivers! But their windows were closed and they were oblivious to a lone walker watching them take the corner.

Most drivers I observe appear to be deeply involved in conversations as they drive their cars and talk on the cell phones at the same time.  Sometimes they appear angry with contorted faces. That’s when I really worry what’s going to happen next.  Psychologists have told us about attention span and doing more than one thing at once. The results have been proven in scientific laboratories. Now, we have the behavior happening all around us without laboratory controls.  Accidents on the way to happen.

Did you know the answer to the question about New Jersey law and using hand held cell phones while driving? In case you didn’t, here’s the answer. And the story on cell phones and driving nationwide.

New Jersey became the second state after New York to pass a law against using hand held cell phones — not head sets —  while driving. It has been ILLEGAL to drive and talk on a hand held cell phone since July 2004. This is called a ‘secondary offense’ after a driver has been stopped for another driving infraction, such as speeding.  The penalty is a fine up to $250; the violation does not carry points.   In New York, the police can stop motorists for talking on the phone even if no other driving infraction takes place.

State officials describe this law as a first step to get drivers to stop using hand held cell phones while they drive. Robert Rodriguez, director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety compares the cell phone law to the state law requiring the use of seat belts which also started as a secondary offense.  “We want to analyze human behavior to see if making it tougher is necessary.”  They found that 2 of every l0 drivers in New Jersey were not buckling their seat belts and changed the use of seat belts from a secondary offense to a primary offense.


What is the picture nationwide?  Eleven states and the District of Columbia have laws restricting cell phones while driving, and nineteen states also keep track of phone involvement in auto crashes.  New Hampshire with its motto, “Live Free or Die” is the only state in the union without a mandatory seat belt law.  But it did pass the first law in the nation against ‘distracted driving’ in 2001. This prohibits talking on a cell phone, eating, drinking or putting on makeup while behind the wheel.  Drivers face fines up to $1000. if police find any of the distracting activity caused an accident.

“If you’re going to have a law, it should cover all distractions,” says Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit group that represents safety officers.  Adkins added that there is no evidence that using a headset makes telephone use any safer while driving. A study funded by the American Automobile Association in 2003 found that changing the radio dials, talking with other passengers, eating, drinking , grooming and writing were more common activities for drivers than talking on a cell phone. Pam Fischer, an AAA spokesperson, says, “Research shows that it’s the conversation, not the device, that causes the distraction.”

Laws against cell phones vary in their specific prohibitions from state to state. Teenage drivers are  banned from talking on cell phones in New Jersey, Maine and the District of Columbia.  School bus drivers are also prohibited from talking on cell phones except in emergencies in ten states, including New Jersey , and the District of Columbia.  Some municipalities have passed their own rules on the subject although certain states restrict local governments from doing this. The bottom line is that legislators in each state research, debate and decide what actions they will take to protect the citizens in their state.


Final note: hands-free cell phone devices can be purchased at any cell phone store or online. Verizon sells these devices for prices ranging from $14.99 to $129.99.   However, drivers should be cautioned that two free hands can lead to all the other ‘distractions’.  The toughest danger to avoid while driving may be any telephone conversation that becomes intense or heated. Don’t risk it. Just hang up! And focus your attention on the road.

………………………………………………………………………………… Joyce S, Anderson