1 of 2


pot·​latch ˈpät-ˌlach How to pronounce potlatch (audio)
: 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
Northwestern US : a social event or celebration


2 of 2


potlatched; potlatching; potlatches

transitive verb

: to give (something, such as a gift) especially with the expectation of a gift in return
: 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
The weaving can take on many applications but is often used in making garments, often worn by chiefs at potlatch ceremonies. Chris Bieri, Anchorage Daily News, 15 Sep. 2023 On the Northwest Coast of North America, Haida people learned from their Bella Bella captives about ceremonial gatherings called potlatches that were organized to build or repair a house. Catherine M. Cameron, Scientific American, 1 Dec. 2017 Decimated by illness, they were stripped of their traditional lands and saw their culture criminalized through the potlatch ban, a policy in effect from 1884 to 1951. Diane Selkirk, Smithsonian Magazine, 22 Dec. 2022 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 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'potlatch.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Chinook Jargon patlač, from Nootka p̓aƛp̓ač

First Known Use


circa 1858, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1898, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of potlatch was circa 1858

Dictionary Entries Near potlatch

Cite this Entry

“Potlatch.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/potlatch. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on potlatch

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!