al·​ba·​tross ˈal-bə-ˌtrȯs How to pronounce albatross (audio)
plural albatross or albatrosses
: any of a family (Diomedeidae) of large web-footed seabirds that have long slender wings, are excellent gliders, and include the largest seabirds
: something that causes persistent deep concern or anxiety
: something that greatly hinders accomplishment : encumbrance
Fame has become an albatross that prevents her from leading a normal life.
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

Did you know?

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 The Cybertruck has been something of an albatross for Tesla. Chris Morris, Fortune, 15 Nov. 2023 As Miss Manners does recall, the message was tolerance of all creatures, including bores — as well as albatrosses. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 31 July 2023 The organization was an early adopter of the brand of right-wing populism personified by Donald Trump, acknowledging as far back as 2013 that the GOP’s embrace of big business was an albatross for many voters. Jack McCordick, The New Republic, 25 Oct. 2023 On uninhabited Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean, the French deposited a herd that performed an evolutionary trick in response to the constraints of island living: the size of individuals shrank in the course of 117 years, squashing albatross colonies in the process. WIRED, 26 Aug. 2023 In the meantime, many Republicans were openly fretting that their deep internal divisions were hanging a political albatross around the party’s neck ahead of the 2024 election. Catie Edmondson, New York Times, 18 Oct. 2023 Advocates have long considered student loans a financial albatross weighing down the middle class, preventing upward mobility and exacerbating racial disparities, especially for Black borrowers. Daniella Silva, NBC News, 1 Oct. 2023 These reptiles were bigger than bustards, bigger than albatrosses, and in 1975 paleontologist Douglas Lawson described what may be the largest flying animal of all time—Quetzalcoatlus, a pterosaur that stood as tall as a giraffe on the ground and had a wingspan 36 feet across. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, 19 Sep. 2023 But these high-altitude albatrosses will never carry tons and tons of SO2. Planes capable of that job could be developed with largely existing technologies, says Wake Smith, a former aviation-industry executive and a climate researcher at the Yale School of the Environment. Douglas Fox, Scientific American, 19 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'albatross.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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.

First Known Use

1672, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of albatross was in 1672

Dictionary Entries Near albatross

Cite this Entry

“Albatross.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


al·​ba·​tross ˈal-bə-ˌtrȯs How to pronounce albatross (audio)
plural albatross or albatrosses
: any of various large web-footed seabirds that are related to the petrels and include the largest birds of the sea
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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