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 chiefly British, golf : 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 In these movies, jazz is a challenge and an albatross. Giovanni Russonello, New York Times, "Jazz Onscreen, Depicted by Black Filmmakers at Last," 29 Dec. 2020 The contract could become an albatross if the administration tires of the losing. Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press, "Big Ten winners and losers: Wisconsin down along with Michigan football and this highly paid coach," 8 Dec. 2020 But a player like Davis is particularly useful in the modern NBA — and perhaps even more so when paired with Towns, an offensive unicorn and a defensive albatross. Michael Rand, Star Tribune, "Ed Davis might be the Wolves' most important new player next season," 23 Nov. 2020 Running with Trump Trump, unpopular in Dallas, is a potential albatross for Collins. Dallas News, "Democrat Colin Allred, Republican Genevieve Collins tout bipartisanship in critical District 32 race for Congress," 26 Oct. 2020 Getting off that albatross of a contract could bode well long-term for a team currently poised to stare down the biggest payroll in NBA history. Connor Letourneau,, "Should the Warriors trade the No. 2 pick? It depends on what they can get," 16 Nov. 2020 And their student debt, an albatross born of aspiration, grew heavier each month. Ron Lieber, New York Times, "For Millions Deep in Student Loan Debt, Bankruptcy Is No Easy Fix," 7 Nov. 2020 But Jumia’s obvious gains aside, the move is also potentially crucial for the wider e-commerce sector given how much of an albatross efficient logistics has been for businesses looking to widen their scope through online commerce and delivery. Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Africa, "After fintech, Jumia is betting on spinning off its logistics arm to deliver profits," 6 Nov. 2020 Antipodean albatross, also known as the toroa, was the favorite to win, leading polls in recent weeks. Jennifer Hassan, Washington Post, "Hundreds of fraudulent votes were discovered. Then a fat green parrot was elected.," 16 Nov. 2020

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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Time Traveler for albatross

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The first known use of albatross was in 1672

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Statistics for albatross

Last Updated

12 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Albatross.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for albatross


How to pronounce albatross (audio)

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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