I'm coming to the end of another term at the art school, where we have spent the term exploring how words work and how they intersect with images. We have spent time exploring the history of swearing among other things, tonight we are going to focus more specifically on how words and language develop and work.
In the middle ages Books of Courtesy emerged--they were books of manners essentially which focused on etiquette, morals and behaviour. The Boke (book) of St. Albans, written in the middle of the 15th century offers up lists of Venery terms. Venery were mass nouns, terms for grouping animals and were invented as a means by which a gentleman could separate himself from the peasants by basically having an 'insider' language, a posh version of the later cockney rhyming slang. Hence a murmuration of starlings and a slew of other terms that are basically arbitrary and slightly mad; a knot of toads, surfeit of skunks, covert of coots, parliament of owls. Many of them remain in our language, not used by one and all regardless of class, if we have knowledge of them.
James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio fame is apparently a foremost expert these obscure venery terms and has a definitive book, called An Exaltation of Larks, worth a read--great insight into the nuances and license of the english language.