pot·​latch | \ ˈpät-ˌlach How to pronounce potlatch (audio) \

Definition of potlatch

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a ceremonial feast of the American Indians of the northwest coast marked by the host's lavish distribution of gifts or sometimes destruction of property to demonstrate wealth and generosity with the expectation of eventual reciprocation
2 Northwestern US : a social event or celebration


potlatched; potlatching; potlatches

Definition of potlatch (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to give (something, such as a gift) especially with the expectation of a gift in return
2 : to hold or give a potlatch for (a tribe, a group, etc.)

intransitive verb

: to hold or give a potlatch

Examples of potlatch in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun One of the earliest pieces to enter the collection, in 1883, the canoe was embellished for exhibition in 1910 with figures representing Tlingits on their way to a potlatch ceremony. New York Times, 5 May 2022 Native Americans from the Northwest Pacific Coast held potlatch feasts at which property and goods were lavished upon neighboring tribes, mainly for the purpose of showing off wealth. Patricia Marx, The New Yorker, 21 Feb. 2022 Tunu offers Gibbs a Springfield rifle as part of the potlatch tradition of giving away personal wealth, and Gibbs returns Libby's watch to Tunu. Sara Netzley, EW.com, 12 Oct. 2021 This was the potlatch around 1900, after the Kwakwaka’wakw had been decimated by disease and were living in a new economy. Eula Biss, The New Yorker, 30 Aug. 2020 During his years as governor, Walker said, Natives welcomed him into their homes, their whaling ceremonies, their potlatches and other important family events. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, 19 Oct. 2019 The tale of Gaagiixiid is a cultural touchstone, a story of sin and redemption, traditionally performed at winter potlatch ceremonies, in which the Haida share songs, dances, and gifts. Julian Brave Noisecat, The New Yorker, 14 Nov. 2019 In the indigenous Kwakwaka’wakw settlement in Alert Bay, British Columbia, Marcus Alfred, a sculptor and the youngest chief in his tribe’s history, carves masks and other sculptures and purchases food and gifts in preparation for a potlatch. BostonGlobe.com, 24 Oct. 2019 Active retired at the end of March, and the station held a potlatch in his honor. Washington Post, 4 June 2018 See More

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

First Known Use of potlatch


circa 1858, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1898, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for potlatch


Chinook Jargon patlač, from Nootka p̓aƛp̓ač

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The first known use of potlatch was circa 1858

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Dictionary Entries Near potlatch

pot kiln


pot layering

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Cite this Entry

“Potlatch.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/potlatch. Accessed 15 Aug. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on potlatch

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about potlatch


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