ivo·ry | \ˈīv-rē, 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 Elder Statesmen T-shirt, $350; Khaite ivory jeans, $360; Ancient Greek sandals, $275. SFChronicle.com, "25 ways to chase your perfect Bay Area summer," 11 July 2018 China, the world’s largest ivory consumer, banned its domestic trade starting this year in what conservationists hope will relieve pressure on Africa’s besieged elephant populations. Washington Post, "Giant crackdown against wildlife crime in 92 countries," 20 June 2018 The fitted ivory Givenchy dress has a high neckline with caped shoulders, and Meghan accessorized it with a black belt at the waist, a black Givenchy clutch bag, and simple black heels by Sarah Flint. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Meghan Markle Wore the Perfect Givenchy Dress for Her First Official Royal Event With the Queen," 14 June 2018 The clothes reportedly came in two sets — one in ivory and another in white — purchased by their nanny, Maria Borrallo, and her mother. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte's Clothes in New Pictures Are Very Significant," 7 May 2018 Russia today Sir Tony Brenton’s letter on engaging with Russia is a classic demonstration of ivory-tower wishful thinking (December 23rd). The Economist, "LettersLetters to the editor," 11 Jan. 2018 Which brings readers back to that all-encompassing ivory bracelet, a mere object that surpasses borders, generations, relationships, social mores – proving to be an unexpected equalizer of sorts. Terry Hong, The Christian Science Monitor, "'What We Were Promised' depicts post-Mao China in a deft debut novel set in Shanghai," 13 July 2018 In that incident, the men sought tusk ivory that can be carved and sold as art. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, "Fourth Brevig Mission man charged with waste in killing of 14 walrus," 6 July 2018 He was traded by Utah with Shabazz Muhammad to Minnesota for Trey Burke in a deal that was like re-painting an ivory room the color cream. Nat Newell, Indianapolis Star, "2013 NBA draft: Oladipo went No. 2, Zeller No. 4; when they should have been picked," 27 June 2018

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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Statistics for ivory

Last Updated

30 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ivory

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

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More Definitions for ivory



English Language Learners Definition of ivory

: a hard white substance that forms the tusks of elephants and other animals

: a slightly yellowish white color

: a piano key


ivo·ry | \ˈī-və-rē, 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 \
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

Comments on ivory

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