ba·​leen | \ bə-ˈlēn How to pronounce baleen (audio) , ˈbā-ˌlēn How to pronounce baleen (audio) \

Definition of baleen

: a horny keratinous substance found in two rows of transverse plates which hang down from the upper jaws of baleen whales

Examples of baleen in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Kanayurak uses sea glass, whale bones, ivory pieces and baleen to create her collages. Alena Naiden, Anchorage Daily News, 20 Aug. 2022 For more than a century, humans hunted whales with ships and harpoons and sold their blubber, baleen and meat for substantial profits. Abby Mcganney Nolan, Washington Post, 16 Aug. 2022 Bone, teeth and baleen (the filter feeding system within a whale’s mouth) were extraneous products, tossed off as of little value. Willard Spiegelman, WSJ, 29 July 2022 No Safe Beaches Phytoplankton, commonly referred to as algae, are a keystone food source for countless marine creatures, from clams to baleen whales. Karen Pinchin, Scientific American, 1 Jan. 2022 That’s the basic, broad trajectory, but huge gaps remain in our knowledge of whales—including how baleen evolved in some species. Devon Bidal, Smithsonian Magazine, 18 Feb. 2022 As the water escapes, krill and small fish are snagged by the baleen’s bristles. Jack Tamisiea, Scientific American, 8 Dec. 2021 That’s because the large baleen whales became the target of whaling in the 1800s. Hope Mckenney, Anchorage Daily News, 19 Feb. 2022 Unlike skin samples, baleen must be collected postmortem. Jack Tamisiea, Scientific American, 8 Dec. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'baleen.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of baleen

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for baleen

Middle English balayn, baleyne "whale, baleen," borrowed from Anglo-French balayne, baleyne "whale, porpoise, baleen," going back to Latin balaena, ballaena, ballēna "whale," probably borrowed, via an unknown intermediary language, from Greek phállaina, phálaina "whale," perhaps of pre-Greek substratal origin

Note: E. Furnée (Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen, p. 171) believes balaena was borrowed directly from a Greek variant *bál(l)aina. Greek phállaina has been linked with phallós phallus, alluding to the animal's shape. The Greek suffix -aina goes back to *-a-n-i̯ă, with -i̯ă the Greek outcome of an Indo-European formation called the devī inflection from its designation in Sanskrit grammar, with alternating stems (in Indo-European terms) *-ih2-/-i̯eh2-. The extended form *-n-i̯ă is used in Greek in a group of words characterized by P. Chantraine as "vocabulaire noble," forming feminine counterparts to masculine nouns: hence, théaina "goddess" (theós "god"), pótnia "lady, queen" (pósis "husband"), déspoina "mistress of the house" (despótēs "master") (see La formation des noms en grec ancien, pp. 103-09). (With this function there are clear parallels in other Indo-European languages, with much re-formation—compare Sanskrit patnī "lady," Old Church Slavic bogyni "goddess," Latin regīna "queen," Old Irish rígain). On this basis the suffix was used in somewhat less "noble" derivatives, as therápaina "female attendant, maid" (therápōn "attendant"), téktaina "(female) provider" (téktōn "craftsman"). A further extension was to animals that might still be considered "noble," or at least awe-inspiring: drákaina "serpent, she-dragon" (drákōn "serpent, dragon"), léaina "lioness" (léōn "lion"). Then, by a development that Chantraine characterizes as rebroussement (literally, "brushing the wrong way"), -aina is used in words for things of very low regard. At this point the suffix seems to intersect with substratal vocabulary, as a number of the relevant derivatives, if not marked with other features of such vocabulary, allude to the Mediterranean natural world: lýkaina "she-wolf" (lýkos "wolf"), kápraina "wild boar, loose woman" (kápros "boar"), grómphaina "sow" (also grómphis; onomatopoeic?), hýaina hyena (hŷs "swine"), phálaina "geometrid moth" (of obscure origin). The suffix is found in the names of a number of sea creatures, fish, and marine mammals: bolítaina "kind of cuttlefish with a foul smell" (bólita "excrement, shit"), kolýbdaina "kind of crab" (substratal), mýraina, smȳ́raina moray eel (probably substratal), skórpaina "kind of fish" (skorpíos scorpion; probably substratal), phállaina "whale," phṓkaina "porpoise" (phṓkē "seal," probably substratal). The suffix also appears in the names of a few undesirable physical conditions, as gángraina gangrene entry 1, phlýktaina "blister, pustule," phagédaina "cancerous ulcer" (from the base of phageîn "to eat,consume").

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The first known use of baleen was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

29 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Baleen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Sep. 2022.

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More Definitions for baleen


ba·​leen | \ bə-ˈlēn How to pronounce baleen (audio) \

Kids Definition of baleen

: a tough material that hangs down from the upper jaw of whales without teeth and is used by the whale to filter small ocean animals out of seawater

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