al·​ba·​tross | \ ˈal-bə-ˌtrȯs How to pronounce albatross (audio) , -ˌträs\
plural albatross or albatrosses

Definition of albatross

1 : any of a family (Diomedeidae) of large web-footed seabirds that have long slender wings, are excellent gliders, and include the largest seabirds
2a : something that causes persistent deep concern or anxiety
b : something that greatly hinders accomplishment : encumbrance Fame has become an albatross that prevents her from leading a normal life.
3 golf, chiefly British : a score of three under par made on a hole : double eagle The first play-off at Augusta followed the most famous single stroke in Masters history, Sarazen's albatross, or double eagle as the Americans prefer to describe such accidents of fortune, at the 15th.— P. A. Ward-Thomas

Illustration of albatross

Illustration of albatross

albatross 1

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Why is albatross used to refer to a burden?

The albatross is an exceedingly large seabird, having a wingspan as much as 11 feet across. It is a magnificent glider, capable of staying aloft for hours at a time without flapping its wings, and tends to remain almost entirely at sea, typically coming ashore only to breed.

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the titular mariner kills an albatross that has been following his ship, bringing down a curse that leads to the death of all other crew members. As a punishment, the crew hang the dead bird from the mariner’s neck, and he remains alive to witness the ship’s fate unfold. This potent emblem led to the coining of a metaphorical meaning for albatross as something that causes anxiety or guilt or that burdens and encumbers.

Examples of albatross in a Sentence

Fame has become an albatross that prevents her from leading a normal and happy life. Fame has become an albatross around her neck.

Recent Examples on the Web

The Democrat, making his first major address to legislators just five weeks into the job, also wants to modify the albatross of the state’s $134 billion in pension debt. John O'connor, The Seattle Times, "Pritzker’s $39B budget relies on taxing marijuana, betting," 20 Feb. 2019 Time will tell if the contract becomes attractive or an albatross for the Bulls, who will get four seasons of a player — who won’t turn 24 until March 2019 — entering his prime. K.c. Johnson,, "Rising salary cap makes Zach LaVine deal more palatable for Bulls than it appears," 7 July 2018 The ultra-premium rewards of the kind that JPMorgan has championed have turned into financial albatrosses. Emily Glazer, WSJ, "Rewards Credit Cards Gained a Fanatic Following—Now Banks Are Pulling Back," 1 Jan. 2019 If progressivism were such an albatross, Brown would have lost in a state that looks more and more Republican by the year. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "The strange argument that Democrats actually lost the midterms, debunked," 9 Nov. 2018 His approach from 208 yards took one hop on the green then found the bottom of the cup for just the second albatross in the hole's history. Daniel Rapaport,, "Watch: Brooks Koepka Makes Albatross En Route to Record-Tying 63 at Players," 13 May 2018 How did things get this way, and how did the trillion-dollar albatross come out flying in the end? Eric Tegler, Popular Mechanics, "WTF-35: How the Joint Strike Fighter Got to Be Such a Mess," 27 July 2018 Those of us who grew up online each have our internet albatross. Devon Maloney, The Verge, "Salad Fingers is coming back, and I already want to barf," 30 Nov. 2018 Corey Stewart will now join the likes of Todd Akin, Roy Moore, Richard Mourdock, Christine O'Donnell, & many others by being an albatross around the neck of GOPers in Virginia & beyond. Jane Coaston, Vox, "How white supremacist candidates fared in 2018," 7 Nov. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'albatross.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of albatross

1672, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for albatross

probably alteration of obsolete alcatrace frigate bird, from Spanish or Portuguese alcatraz pelican, from Arabic al-ghaṭṭās, a kind of sea eagle

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Statistics for albatross

Last Updated

27 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for albatross

The first known use of albatross was in 1672

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More Definitions for albatross



English Language Learners Definition of albatross

: a large white ocean bird that has very long wings
: a continuing problem that makes it difficult or impossible to do or achieve something


al·​ba·​tross | \ ˈal-bə-ˌtrȯs How to pronounce albatross (audio) \

Kids Definition of albatross

: a very large seabird with webbed feet

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More from Merriam-Webster on albatross

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with albatross

Spanish Central: Translation of albatross

Nglish: Translation of albatross for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about albatross

Comments on albatross

What made you want to look up albatross? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a strong desire or propensity

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