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 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 Philip Roth comes flapping at us like a magnificent albatross through the mist, a heavy, feathery projectile from beyond the rim of time. James Parker, The Atlantic, "The Relentless Philip Roth," 13 Mar. 2021 With virtually no predators, the islands are a haven for many species of seabirds, and Midway Atoll is home to the largest colony of albatross in the world. Caleb Jones, The Christian Science Monitor, "Hawaiian beach cleanup turns up more than 47 tons of debris," 23 Apr. 2021 With virtually no predators, the islands are a haven for many species of seabirds, and Midway Atoll is home to the largest colony of albatross in the world. Caleb Jones, chicagotribune.com, "Expedition hauls tons of plastic and abandoned fishing nets out of remote Hawaii atolls that threaten to entangle endangered animals," 22 Apr. 2021 With virtually no predators, the islands are a haven for many species of seabirds, and Midway Atoll is home to the largest colony of albatross in the world. Caleb Jones, Anchorage Daily News, "Expedition recovers tons of ‘ghost nets’ and plastic from remote Hawaiian atolls," 22 Apr. 2021 But the truck had a reputation as a gas-guzzling albatross, conveying vulgarian excess especially after the US slipped into the Great Recession. Michael J. Coren, Quartz, "Why America needs the $112,000 electric Hummer," 7 Apr. 2021 Scientists first attached a red identifying ankle band to Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, in 1956. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, "Oldest Known Wild Bird Hatches Chick at Age 70," 26 Feb. 2021 With future Hall of Famer Marvin Miller now helming the players’ union, that albatross fell three years later in an arbitration ruling. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, "What is the MLB antitrust exemption? Baseball's century-old golden goose becomes political cudgel," 14 Apr. 2021 The septuagenarian albatross has been raising chicks with her mate Akeakamai since at least 2010, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, "Oldest Known Wild Bird Hatches Chick at Age 70," 26 Feb. 2021

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

12 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Albatross.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/albatross. Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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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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