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  1. any of several tawny brown herons that inhabit reedy marshes, as Botaurus lentiginosus (American bittern), of North America, and B. stellaris, of Europe.
  2. any of several small herons of the genus Ixobrychus, as I. exilis (least bittern), of temperate and tropical North and South America.

Origin of bittern1

1510–20; bitter, bittor bittern + -n (perhaps by association with heron), Middle English bito(u)r, butur, boto(u)r < Anglo-French bytore, Anglo-French, Old French butor < Vulgar Latin *būtitaurus, equivalent to *būti-, perhaps to be identified with Latin būteō a species of hawk (see buteo) + Latin taurus bull (cited by Pliny as a name for a bird emitting a bellowing sound)


noun Chemistry.
  1. a bitter solution remaining in salt making after the salt has crystallized out of seawater or brine, used as a source of bromides, iodides, and certain other salts.

Origin of bittern2

1675–85; variant of bittering; see bitter, -ing1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for bittern

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Personally I do not know a bittern from an olive-backed thrush.

    Four Americans

    Henry A. Beers

  • I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water.

  • I will alto make it a possession for the bittern, and pools for water.

    Bible Animals;

    J. G. Wood

  • The very cry of the Bittern adds to this atmosphere of desolation.

    Bible Animals;

    J. G. Wood

  • It is conspicuously slenderer and shorter than in the Bittern.

    Extinct Birds

    Walter Rothschild

British Dictionary definitions for bittern


  1. any wading bird of the genera Ixobrychus and Botaurus, related and similar to the herons but with shorter legs and neck, a stouter body, and a booming call: family Ardeidae, order Ciconiiformes

Word Origin

C14: from Old French butor, perhaps from Latin būtiō bittern + taurus bull; referring to its cry


  1. the bitter liquid remaining after common salt has been crystallized out of sea water: a source of magnesium, bromine, and iodine compounds

Word Origin

C17: variant of bittering; see bitter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bittern


heron-like bird, 13c., botor, from Old French butor "bittern," perhaps from Gallo-Romance *butitaurus, from Latin butionem "bittern" + taurus "bull" (see steer (n.)); according to Pliny, so called because of its booming voice, but this seems fanciful. Modern form from 1510s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper