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

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 For starters, these loans have become an unfair albatross around the neck of millions of Americans. Dean Obeidallah, The New Republic, 19 Apr. 2022 Known for his albatross-like wingspan that stretches nearly seven-feet, his lithe 6-foot-8 frame is more chiseled this season, and Williams called Bridges one of the hardest-working players he's ever been around. Dana Scott, The Arizona Republic, 17 Apr. 2022 Inflation has become an albatross for Democrats going into the 2022 midterm elections, despite the nation's strong economic growth last year. Jill Lawless, ajc, 16 Feb. 2022 The Brewers can only hope that deal does not become an albatross. John Perrotto, Forbes, 7 Oct. 2021 Without the permission to fail, taking strategic and creative risk is an albatross on the neck of the CMO. Seth Matlins, Forbes, 26 Apr. 2022 Garoppolo’s contract, which comes with a $26.9 million salary-cap hit, isn’t an albatross at the moment with the 49ers’ free-agency spending essentially over. Eric Branch, San Francisco Chronicle, 29 Mar. 2022 Also, who knows when GM Nick Caserio is going to resolve the Deshaun Watson situation that continues to be an albatross around the neck of this organization? Nate Davis, USA TODAY, 16 Feb. 2022 But his contract is hardly an albatross, and Horford will become a free agent after next season, too. Adam Himmelsbach,, 10 Feb. 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of albatross

1672, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for albatross

earlier albitrosse, albetrosse "albatross, frigate bird," alteration (with the first syllables probably reshaped after Latin albus "white" and its derivatives) of alcatras, alcatrace "pelican, frigate bird," or of its source, 16th-century Italian alcatrazzo (borrowed from Spanish) or Spanish alcatraz "pelican" or Portuguese alcatraz "brown booby (Sula leucogaster), frigate bird," both borrowed from Arabic al-ġaṭṭās "diver, sea eagle," derivative from the base of the verb ġaṭṭa "to immerse, dip, plunge"; (sense 2) after the albatross in Samuel Taylor coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which the mariner kills and is then forced to wear around his neck as expiation for his crime; (sense 3) by analogy with birdie entry 1 and eagle entry 1 as names for golfing scores

Note: The reflection of Arabic ġ as c in Spanish rather than g has been explained as through influence of late medieval Spanish alcaduz "bucket of a waterwheel" (later arcaduz), the throat pouch of a pelican suggesting such a bucket.

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The first known use of albatross was in 1672

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Last Updated

12 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Albatross.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for albatross


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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