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 My cabbage steals sun from my mint; the squash has the wingspan of an albatross. Matt Bean, Sunset Magazine, "Sunset Loves: I Tried Vertical Gardening and Now the Neighbors Love Me," 12 June 2020 Day 4 - Española Island Spend the day on Española Island, the breeding site of nearly all of the waved albatrosses in the entire world. Jordan Harvey, Travel + Leisure, "Jordan Harvey's Ultimate 7-Day Galapagos Islands Itinerary," 23 Apr. 2020 Oliver's technical skills, albatross-like wingspan and iimproved speed that allows him to cover so much ground are apparent on the court. Dana Scott, azcentral, "Deer Valley's boys tennis champion Oliver Boleratzky is his dad's American Dream," 15 Mar. 2020 Species differ, too: Wandering albatrosses were more attracted to boats than Amsterdam albatrosses. Erik Stokstad, Science | AAAS, "Seabird ‘cops’ spy on sneaky fishing vessels," 27 Jan. 2020 To understand why, consider the falcon and the albatross. Kristina Lindborg, The Christian Science Monitor, "Hypersonic missiles may be unstoppable. Is society ready?," 31 Mar. 2020 Of course, Kentucky’s resume is weighed down by the albatross that is the Nov. 12 loss to Evansville, which has yet to win a game in 2020 and is ranked 253rd in the NET as of Wednesday. Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal, "Who has the better NCAA Tournament resume, Kentucky or Louisville basketball? You decide," 26 Feb. 2020 But there is a larger purpose on this path to dissolving the trillion-dollar debt albatross. Nick Martin, The New Republic, "The Radical Possibilities of Not Paying Your Student Loans," 7 Feb. 2020 This Laysan albatross chick is being fed pieces of plastic by its parents, which mistake the waste for food. Sarah Lazarus, CNN, "Long-distance swimmer dives into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," 11 Dec. 2019

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of albatross was in 1672

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Statistics for albatross

Last Updated

28 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Albatross.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

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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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