al·​ba·​tross | \ˈal-bə-ˌtrȯs, -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

So why not flip one albatross contract for another? Rob Mahoney,, "Trade Grades: Charlotte, Chicago and Orlando Complete Pragmatic Three-Team Trade," 8 July 2018 England too have suffered with the albatross of a single World Cup win., "How Luis Enrique Must Force Quick Transition to Stop Spain Returning to the Mediocre Years," 10 July 2018 Free agent Joe Harris, a 6-6 shooting guard, probably has a higher upside but this isn't an albatross contract. J. Michael, Indianapolis Star, "Breaking down Pacers' decision to open free agency by signing journeyman Doug McDermott," 1 July 2018 Many Republicans — especially those from competitive swing districts — view the separation of families as a political albatross, though the policy has been backed by some conservatives. Ron Nixon,, "Border officials suspend handing over migrant families to prosecutors," 25 June 2018 Once an albatross, the school’s location south of Downtown is now an asset, attracting students drawn to a university in a city brimming with cultural cred. Alex Bhattacharji, Town & Country, "Can USC Survive Scandal and Shed Its Spoiled-Kid Reputation Once and For All?," 10 July 2018 Brooks Koepka became the eighth player with a 63 on Sunday, making an albatross 2 on the par-5 16th. Doug Ferguson,, "Webb Simpson completes a big win at Players Championship," 13 May 2018 Brooks Koepka became the eighth player with a 63 on Sunday, making an albatross 2 on the par-5 16th. Doug Ferguson, Houston Chronicle, "Webb Simpson completes a big win at Players Championship," 13 May 2018 Lydia Ko nearly made an albatross on the first playoff hole en route to her first victory in nearly two years. Daniel Rapaport,, "FORE Questions: How Can the Zurich Classic Be Improved?," 30 Apr. 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

23 Oct 2018

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The first known use of albatross was in 1672

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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 \

Kids Definition of albatross

: a very large seabird with webbed feet

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