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 In a Senate split 50-50, Democrats on the campaign trail and in Congress have zero margin for error as the party tries to navigate a hostile political environment defined chiefly by President Biden’s albatross-like approval ratings. New York Times, 6 Aug. 2022 The college degree that all of our mentors promised would be the key to success has become an albatross for millions of graduates who can't get their heads above water. Allison Morrow, CNN, 14 June 2022 Inflation has become the most pressing economic concern for Americans — as well as a political albatross for the Biden Administration. Irina Ivanova, CBS News, 13 July 2022 Gasoline prices averaged $4.84 a gallon on Friday, a strain on commuters and a political albatross for Biden’s fellow Democrats going into the midterm elections. Janet Mcconnaughey And Matthew Brown, Chron, 3 July 2022 Gasoline prices averaged $4.84 a gallon on Friday, a strain on commuters and a political albatross for Biden's fellow Democrats going into the midterm elections. Arkansas Online, 3 July 2022 His and my relationship got so much better without the albatross of my mom in the middle. Washington Post, 28 June 2021 At a tournament in Germany, Maximilian Kieffer made an albatross, holing out his second shot on a par 5. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 29 June 2022 Published in the journal Aerospace this week, their paper details how the albatross-style devices—with a wingspan of 11 feet and weighing just 11 lbs—would soar over the Martian surface for days at a time using only wind energy for propulsion. Jamie Carter, Forbes, 4 July 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

9 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Albatross.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 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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