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A Quandary of Quadruplets in Mississippi

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Yesterday, according to ABC News, Kimberly Fugate gave birth to four identical quadruplets.

In multiple births, twins are the most common: the odds a baby will be part of a twin birth are 1 in 31.1. Then it gets rarer and rarer. The odds a baby is a triplet are 1 in 697. And the odds a baby is part of a quadruplet birth are 1 in 12,020 or .000083%! Most of these multiples result from in vitro fertilization. What is so wondrous is that the "Fugate Four" did not result from assisted reproduction technologies.

This sort of quadruplet is very rare. Dr. James Bofill, professor of maternal fetal medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Hospital where the quads were born, told ABC News "The odds of spontaneous quadruplets is 1 in every 729,000 live births" How rare is that? Well, a person is 100 times more likely to be diagnosed with animal rabies in a year (1 in 72,180).

Something so wonderful requires a name to match. Kimberly and Craig Fugate came up with names for all of the quadruplets. Like Roger Clemens, who names his kids with names starting with K to commemorate his strikeout prowess, the Fugates like "K" names. Their four identical quads are named Kenleigh Rosa, Kristen Sue, Kayleigh Pearl and Kelsey Roxann.

But what to call the whole deal? I mean "sets" of quadruplets, "sets" of quintuplets and so forth seems to miss the grandeur of the moment, and the challenge ahead for the parents of such miracles.

There is way of improving matters, we think. James Lipton in his book, An Exaltation of Larks or The Venereal Game revived a game of naming collective nouns common in the fifteenth century. Many of these terms, such as a swarm of bees or a pride of lions, are still in use. Other terms -- such as a bouquet of pheasants, an ostentation of peacocks or a parliament of owls -- were the correct usage then, when knowing the correct terms of venery was an admired social grace.

Given that venery is derived from Venus, goddess of love, and veneri is rooted in the word "to hunt" but also "to desire," it seems a shame that this naming game has not yet been applied to the product of love. Why not redress the dull reliance on "sets" as the standard terms for all multiples? A set of octuplets sounds awfully pedestrian for such a tuneful gathering. If ever terms of venery were needed it is for the collectives of multiple births. Here is our list.

Note that the first is common usage so we do not seek to alter it. What follows is a lark, yes, and also -- we hope -- an exultation. It is also excerpted from our new book, Book of Odds, From Lightning Strikes to Love at First Sight, published by HarperCollins.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Amram Shapiro and Louise Firth Campbell are two of the authors of "Book of Odds, From Lightning Strikes to Love at First Sight, The Odds of Everyday Life". We are the ones who compose this blog. Our book is a numerical snapshot of the United States, packaged to be fun to read and browse through in a large format paperback, strikingly designed. It is published by William Morrow and HarperCollins.