albatross

noun
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 golf, chiefly British : 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

With the rats gone, conservationists expect to see an explosion in the number of albatrosses, skuas, terns, petrels, and South Georgia pipits and pintail ducks. Charlie Hamilton James, National Geographic, "How rats became an inescapable part of city living," 17 June 2019 On Midway Island, a crucial albatross breeding ground in the North Pacific, the birds were nearly wiped out by predatory rats that arrived about a century ago. Quanta Magazine, "Gene Drives Work in Mice (if They’re Female)," 23 Jan. 2019 Koepka birdied the 14th to get to five-under, made par on 15, then made an unbelievable albatross (double-eagle) 2 on the par-5 16th. Daniel Rapaport, SI.com, "Watch: Brooks Koepka Makes Albatross En Route to Record-Tying 63 at Players," 13 May 2018 Two nights are spent on Stewart, whose rain forests and coastal areas harbor a wealth of birds, including albatrosses, shearwaters and several species of penguins. Phil Marty, chicagotribune.com, "See more of New Zealand, hit India's highlights without busting the budget and more," 1 May 2018 The technique turns short, simple programs into giant, unwieldy albatrosses. Quanta Magazine, "Perfecting the Art of Sensible Nonsense," 30 Jan. 2014 Defensive tackle Chris Jones is coming off a breakout season and is eligible to sign an extension, while the albatross contracts of safety Eric Berry and linebacker Justin Houston must be dealt with in some fashion. Dave Skretta, The Seattle Times, "Chiefs turning to Spagnuolo to shore up sieve-like defensive," 20 Feb. 2019 The Democrat, making his first major address to legislators just five weeks into the job, also wants to modify the albatross of the state’s $134 billion in pension debt. John O'connor, The Seattle Times, "Pritzker’s $39B budget relies on taxing marijuana, betting," 20 Feb. 2019 Time will tell if the contract becomes attractive or an albatross for the Bulls, who will get four seasons of a player — who won’t turn 24 until March 2019 — entering his prime. K.c. Johnson, chicagotribune.com, "Rising salary cap makes Zach LaVine deal more palatable for Bulls than it appears," 7 July 2018

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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Dictionary Entries near albatross

albarium

albariza

albas

albatross

albe

albedo

albedometer

Statistics for albatross

Last Updated

17 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for albatross

The first known use of albatross was in 1672

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More Definitions for albatross

albatross

noun

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

albatross

noun
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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More from Merriam-Webster on albatross

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with albatross

Spanish Central: Translation of albatross

Nglish: Translation of albatross for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about albatross

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