The Grammarphobia Blog

Of maidens, quails, roes, or larks

Q: I’m a network news producer. I recently tried to use the phrase “a bevy of frenzied activities,” but it was deemed an inaccurate use of the word “bevy.” My dictionary says “bevy” can be used for a group of people or things. Isn’t an activity a thing? Can you please clarify?

A: The word “bevy” is a noun meaning, roughly, a group – and the group is usually one of people or animals.

The Oxford English Dictionary explains that the origins of “bevy” are uncertain. When it first appeared in the 15th century, it was “the proper term for a company of maidens or ladies, of roes, of quails, or of larks.”

The OED‘s first published citation is from a book on hawking that appeared in 1430 and referred to “a bevey of quayles.”

In the 1600s, people began using “bevy” to refer to “a company of any kind,” as when Ben Johnson referred in 1603 to “a bevy of Fairies.”

But, according to the OED, only “rarely” is the word “bevy” used to refer to “a collection of objects.”

As for a collection of activities, that would be a very unusual usage. “A frenzy of activity” might have been better.

Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.