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 Castor stared at her through the dark, unruly hair that had fallen into his eyes, his ivory skin flushed. Seija Rankin, EW.com, "Get a first look at Lore, the new novel from The Darkest Minds creator Alexandra Bracken," 8 July 2020 Mixed in with a palette of pastel pinks, reds, and blacks are five ivory ensembles perfect for brides-to-be. Eliza Huber, refinery29.com, "Bridal Masks & Taffeta Bows Reign Supreme At Giambattista Valli," 7 July 2020 Poaching of elephants for ivory has received wide coverage in Western media, but their skins turn up in boots that are legally marketed in wealthy nations. Candace Famiglietti, The Conversation, "Python skin jackets and elephant leather boots: How wealthy Western nations help drive the global wildlife trade," 19 June 2020 This perspective focuses on newly wealthy Asians who want to buy ivory, rhino horn or, more recently, pangolin. Candace Famiglietti, The Conversation, "Python skin jackets and elephant leather boots: How wealthy Western nations help drive the global wildlife trade," 19 June 2020 Upstairs, in the grand rooms, the only bust of Leopold on display is made of ivory and aims to explain how the plunder of the country extended to the wholesale slaughter of elephants. Washington Post, "As protests grow, Belgium faces its racist colonial past," 11 June 2020 Famous dancers, the glory of the country—men tall and handsome, ballerinas seemingly cut from a piece of ivory by the same masterful hand—leaped and lunged in perfect unison, their costumes lavish, their movements flawless. Anastasia Edel, The New York Review of Books, "A Winter’s Night at the Bolshoi, 1985," 6 Mar. 2020 The teeth were in fact made up of ivory from different animals as well as human teeth. Suyin Haynes, Time, "'History Has Been Told About Men, for Men, by Men.' How One Historian Wants to Bring a New Perspective to George Washington," 4 Feb. 2020 Rather than wearing a flowing gown, the star decided to rock an ivory Versace mini-dress that was dotted with flower decals. Bianca Gracie, Billboard, "Here Are the 10 Best Red Carpet Looks From the 2020 Grammys," 26 Jan. 2020

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

19 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ivory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ivory. Accessed 11 Aug. 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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