The Vocabulary of Tea Towels

I have been collecting tea towels  for a long while, basically since 1970.  That is 50 years, half a century and certainly something to celebrate.  I have bought tea towels, as souvenirs, as gifts, for enjoyment, as a record of where I have been, as pieces of ‘art’.  As of today, I have more than 1150 tea towels, all in use.  As anyone who collects, or has a number of tea towels, knows, these will be of different sizes, different materials and different designs.  I have learnt a lot about tea towels and their history, tea towel styles, tea towel designers but the one thing I know is that there is no Tea Towel Language.  I believe things need to change; after all, collecting tea towels, if only in small numbers, is a popular hobby.

The first thing that needs to be remedied is finding a Venery (or collective) Noun for a group of tea towels.  My friend, Mick, suggested that as the founder, and Curator, of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, that in the event of no alternatives that I could, and should, put forward, and use, a serious proposal.

To be clear, in Linguistics, a Collective (or Venery) Noun is is a collection of things taken as a whole, a singular noun referring to a group.  Most Collective Nouns in everyday speech are not specific to one thing e.g. a Troop can refer to more than ten different things: soldiers, mushrooms, dogfish, apes, dancers….. Some Collective Nouns are well known in everyday language: a Pack of Cards,  a Gang of Thieves, a Set of China; you use them and don’t recognise them as specifically Collective Nouns.

While some Collective Nouns may refer to many different things, it is also true that some things have many different Collective Nouns.  Puffins can be A Loomery, A Parliament, A Raft, A Burrow, A Circus, A Colony, An Improbability or A Puffinry.

Often you can see where the Collective Noun has it’s origins: Library of Books, Band of Musicians.  Some are commonly known, even if they appear a bit weird: An Unkindness of Ravens was the name of a book by Ruth Rendell.  If there is ever a quiz about Collective Nouns this will be common answer.  But there are some whacky ones: An Ambush of Widows, A Volery of Birds, A Quiz of Teachers, A Cluster of Computers, A Misbelief of Painters, A Bloat of Hippos, A Superfluity of Nuns and so forth.  But nowhere can I find the Collective Noun/s for tea towels.

It didn’t seem right that I should just invent a term; consultation was needed and that was where Twitter came in handy.  I asked people for their ideas and many came forward.  From this I was able to make a selection, and all can be used for different occasions:

A Fold of Tea Towels:  This refers to the tea towels used on a regular basis, kept in the kitchen drawer.  They do not have to be fancy or memorable, but they can be.  The term ‘fold’ reflects the fact that to be stored in a kitchen drawer, they do need to be folded neatly in order to fit; they will usually be ironed or at least stretched after washing.  Tea towels are often sold, neatly folded.  There will often be a drawer in a kitchen dedicated to A Fold of Tea Towels.

A Towelling Of Tea Towels: A specialist term, referring to tea towels made from towelling or terry-towelling.  They have good absorbency but are often used for the dual purpose of wiping both hands and dishes.  A Towelling of Tea Towels is a potential source of germs.

A Hanging of Tea Towels: Tea towels are often hung: these days tea towels often come with a sewn-in hanger or hoop for easy hanging in a kitchen; often ‘special ones’ are framed and hung as a picture; tea towels are often on show in a shop by hanging  together to make it easier to look through different ones; the tea towels belonging to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum are hung on trouser hangers, ten at a time, so much easier to flick through them to identify the one you want.  And, of course, there is nothing like a washing line full of A Hanging of Tea Towels.

A Coveting of Tea Towels: This refers to the Tea Towel Collector’s dream.  Tea towels bought as souvenirs, or perhaps received as a present, and often never used, just admired.  If you collect tea towels you are the easiest person in the world to buy presents for; tea towels are relatively cheap and with so many different designs you can contribute to a Coveting Of Tea Towels

And finally, a more generic term, A Usefulness of Tea Towels: It does what it says on the tin. 

For inclusion in a dictionary, it is important that these words are in everyday usage.  Try them and see how it goes.