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 Another potential albatross for Senate Republicans is President Trump. David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, "GOP Senate majority at risk after monster fundraising quarter by Democrats," 6 Oct. 2020 Now their mortgage payment feels like an albatross, and a simple trip to Target feels out of reach. Jeanna Smialek, New York Times, "Workers Face Permanent Job Losses as the Virus Persists," 3 Oct. 2020 In addition to the Tristan albatross, the island is also an important breeding site for the Sooty and Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses, per the RSPB’s website. Nora Mcgreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, "COVID-19 Stranded Scientists Trying to Save Endangered Birds From Killer Mice," 22 May 2020 Play Mississippi State in their first game with a new coach who runs an offense that lives in the air more than an albatross over the Arctic Ocean. Joseph Goodman |, al, "Auburn, Florida could struggle; Alabama shows no mercy," 24 Sep. 2020 The opening chapters are exuberant with exploration: The joy of mapping out dozens of different halls, the happy surprise of an albatross’ arrival in the halls, a detailed analysis of the statues that populate the House. Christian Holub,, "Quarantine Book Club: How I got lost in Piranesi during the pandemic," 17 Sep. 2020 Winners of this contest -- concocted to rid the presidency of an albatross airplane and transformed into a campaign claiming to raise funds to battle Covid-19 -- will be announced in the coming days. Matt Rivers, CNN, "The strange story of Mexico's presidential plane lottery," 16 Sep. 2020 The question becomes, is Trump an asset or albatross? Dallas News, "Asset or albatross? Some GOP candidates ponder whether to embrace or avoid Donald Trump," 11 Sep. 2020 While the shearwaters are not globally threatened, the Nature Conservancy hopes that other rarer ground-nesting shorebirds extirpated from Moloka‘i, like the Laysan albatross (mōlī), might also eventually nest at Mo‘omomi. Josh Silberg, Smithsonian Magazine, "Hawai‘i’s Last Dunes Are Home to Species Found Nowhere Else on the Planet," 26 Feb. 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

Time Traveler

The first known use of albatross was in 1672

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Statistics for albatross

Last Updated

14 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Albatross.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 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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