white whale


Definition of white whale

2 or less commonly great white whale : something (such as a goal or object) that is obsessively pursued It was the old man's white whale, the holy grail shining at the end of the dream, on and off the rails, as he chased scripts, directors, and movie stars of the proper magnitude.— Rich Cohen For drug makers, developing the first Alzheimer's therapy has long been seen as the great white whale: the toughest challenge and biggest opportunity.— Robert Weisman

Illustration of white whale

Illustration of white whale

white whale 1

Examples of white whale in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web A thousand feet separated Ron Capps from his racing white whale. Wilson Moore, The Indianapolis Star, 5 Sep. 2022 Understandably, much of the Driehaus exhibit is dedicated to the Chicago Stock Exchange, Nickel’s white whale. Hannah Edgar, Chicago Tribune, 31 Aug. 2022 In that novel, the reader is aware of the titular white whale for most of the story through hearsay, with the giant beast appearing only in the final pages. Isaac Fitzgerald, The Atlantic, 10 Aug. 2022 Federal privacy legislation has been something of a white whale in DC over the last few years. Wired, 22 July 2022 What if the Big Ten lands its white whale, Notre Dame? Josh Newman, The Salt Lake Tribune, 1 July 2022 In this piece, a happy-looking white whale swims beneath the azure waves while a white tea cup hovers surrealistically above the water’s edge. Kyle Roderick, Forbes, 1 July 2022 The car, meanwhile, remains Apple's absolute white whale. Sascha Segan, PCMAG, 7 June 2022 The other goal, of course, is their great white whale—a non-fossil-fuel economy. Daniel Henninger, WSJ, 25 May 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of white whale

1635, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for white whale

(sense 2) after the white sperm whale obsessively hunted by Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick (1851)

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Time Traveler for white whale

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The first known use of white whale was in 1635

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white whale

white wheat

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Last Updated

17 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“White whale.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/white%20whale. Accessed 28 Sep. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on white whale

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about white whale


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