Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a large white seabird with long narrow wings

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun albatross is a variation of a Spanish and Portuguese word, ‘alcatras’, which means pelican. It has been used in English since the 17th century.


Friday was World Albatross Day, a day dedicated to increasing understanding of these amazing birds and helping to protect their future. Albatrosses live mostly in the southern hemisphere and north Pacific, though occasionally one wanders to Europe, to the delight of birdwatchers. Albatrosses are among the largest birds on the planet, with wingspans of up to 2.7 metres. All albatrosses are endangered or vulnerable, and some species are close to extinction. They are under threat from a number of directions, including predation by introduced species, declines in their food supplies, plastic pollution and fishing: they are attracted to the baited hooks, get tangled in the lines and drown. In golf, an albatross is a score of three strokes under par. An albatross around your neck is something that causes you persistent problems. The saying comes directly from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ where the sailor of the title is forced by his crew mates to carry the bird he shot around his neck as a symbol and reminder of the bad luck his action has brought them.


Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

Related words

auk, gannet, guillemot, gull

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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