ivo·​ry | \ ˈīv-rē How to pronounce ivory (audio) , ˈī-və-rē \
plural ivories

Definition of ivory

1a : the hard creamy-white modified dentine that composes the tusks of a tusked mammal (such as an elephant, walrus, or narwhal)
b : a tusk that yields ivory
2 : a variable color averaging a pale yellow
3 slang : tooth
4 : something (such as a piano key) made of ivory or of a similar substance

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Other Words from ivory

ivory adjective

The History of Ivory

A hard white substance that is a variety of dentin, ivory makes up the tusks of such animals as elephants, walruses, and preserved mammoths. It is prized for its beauty, durability, and suitability for carving. In ancient times it was treasured as highly as gold and precious stones. Most ivory used commercially once came from Africa, but this trade declined in the 20th century as the populations of African elephants shrank, and increasing worldwide concern about endangered elephant populations led to bans on the export and import of ivory. The once-thriving markets of Europe have shifted to southeast Asia, where skilled artisans, often trading illegally, carve ivory into figurines and other objects.

Examples of ivory in a Sentence

a carved piece of ivory
Recent Examples on the Web The collapse of Norse colonies in Greenland was blamed on walrus depletion that in turn arose from falling wholesale prices for walrus ivory. Rafil Kroll-zaidi, Harper's magazine, "Findings," 2 Mar. 2020 The legend hopped on the ivories and performed a snippet of one of his hits every time a new bid was placed. Rania Aniftos, Billboard, "Fresh Off Elton John's Win, Here Are 6 Highlights From His AIDS Foundation Oscars Viewing Party," 10 Feb. 2020 Fan favorites like the painters Goya and Velázquez will be on hand, but so will medieval metalwork and ivories, given that the show covers about 4,000 years. New York Times, "Spring Shows to Keep Art Lovers Busy," 10 Mar. 2020 In ivory, alabaster, and eggshell, tasteful top-handles, clutches, and crossbodies easily transition from your big day to every day. Megan Ditrolio, Marie Claire, "And the Bride Wore...," 17 Feb. 2020 Part of his motivation is to keep the tusk off the black market, where smugglers traffic ivory, fossils and other priceless artifacts. NBC News, "A museum's narwhal tusk disappeared in the 1980s. The FBI wants your help to find it.," 14 Feb. 2020 The merchants who followed in their wake brought back to the markets of Europe spices, textiles and porcelain, but also nautilus shells, corals, ivory, rhinoceros horns, ostrich eggs and much else besides. Washington Post, "The Met is the world’s greatest art museum. Three under-the-radar shows confirm it — again.," 10 Jan. 2020 Throughout history, narwhals have been closely linked to the supernatural, with centuries-old European beliefs that these mysterious Arctic creatures are mystical animals and their ivory tusks hold magical healing properties. NBC News, "A museum's narwhal tusk disappeared in the 1980s. The FBI wants your help to find it.," 14 Feb. 2020 The skeletal remains were left behind by mammoth hunters hoping to strike it rich by pulling prehistoric ivory tusks from a vast underground layer of ice and frozen dirt called permafrost. BostonGlobe.com, "You're using a browser set to private or incognito mode.," 6 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ivory.' 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 ivory

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ivory

Middle English ivorie, from Anglo-French ivoire, ivurie, from Latin eboreus of ivory, from ebor-, ebur ivory, from Egyptian ʾ̹b, ʾ̹bw elephant, ivory

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Time Traveler for ivory

Time Traveler

The first known use of ivory was in the 13th century

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Statistics for ivory

Last Updated

31 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ivory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ivory. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for ivory


How to pronounce ivory (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ivory

: a hard white substance that forms the tusks of elephants and other animals
: a slightly yellowish white color
informal : a piano key


ivo·​ry | \ ˈī-və-rē How to pronounce ivory (audio) , ˈīv-rē \
plural ivories

Kids Definition of ivory

1 : a hard creamy-white material that forms the tusks of mammals (as elephants)
2 : a creamy white color


ivo·​ry | \ ˈīv-(ə-)rē How to pronounce ivory (audio) \
plural ivories

Medical Definition of ivory

: the hard creamy-white modified dentin that composes the tusks of a tusked mammal and especially the elephant

Other Words from ivory

ivory adjective

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More from Merriam-Webster on ivory

Spanish Central: Translation of ivory

Nglish: Translation of ivory for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ivory for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about ivory

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