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[hahr-poon] /hɑrˈpun/
a barbed, spearlike missile attached to a rope, and thrown by hand or shot from a gun, used for killing and capturing whales and large fish.
(initial capital letter) Military. a jet-powered, radar-guided U.S. Navy cruise missile with a high explosive warhead designed for use against surface ships and launchable from a surface vessel, submerged submarine, or aircraft.
verb (used with object)
to strike, catch, or kill with or as if with a harpoon.
Origin of harpoon
1590-1600; < Dutch harpoenOld French harpon a clasp, brooch, equivalent to harp- (< Latin harpē < Greek: hook) + -on diminutive suffix
Related forms
harpooner, noun
harpoonlike, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for harpoon
Historical Examples
  • In addition to the harpoon every swordfish fisherman carries a lance.

    Tales of Fishes Zane Grey
  • He had not time to get it from the sheath before I had the harpoon through him.

    The Return of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle
  • We supposed that the paddle and the harpoon went with the kayak.

    Left on Labrador

    Charles Asbury Stephens
  • He had a harpoon and I had a knife and we beat them and took their ship.

    The Beach of Dreams H. De Vere Stacpoole
  • Then the whalers did not use a gun, but threw the harpoon by hand.

    From Pole to Pole

    Sven Anders Hedin
  • Almost before the harpoon has struck the boat is backed swiftly.

    From Pole to Pole

    Sven Anders Hedin
  • Gets harpooned, rubs the harpoon into himself, and slays himself.

  • Simply the circumstance of his having held on to the harpoon.

    The Ocean Waifs Mayne Reid
  • That was the tightening of the line attached to the handle of the harpoon.

    The Ocean Waifs Mayne Reid
  • The order when the harpooner has thrown his harpoon into the whale.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
British Dictionary definitions for harpoon


  1. a barbed missile attached to a long cord and hurled or fired from a gun when hunting whales, etc
  2. (as modifier): a harpoon gun
(transitive) to spear with or as if with a harpoon
Derived Forms
harpooner, harpooneer, noun
harpoon-like, adjective
Word Origin
C17: probably from Dutch harpoen, from Old French harpon clasp, from harper to seize, perhaps of Scandinavian origin
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
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Word Origin and History for harpoon

1610s, from French harpon, from Old French harpon "cramp iron, clamp, clasp" (described as a mason's tool for fastening stones together), from harper "to grapple, grasp," possibly of Germanic origin, or from Latin harpa- "hook" (cf. harpagonem "grappling hook," from Greek *harpagon, related to harpe "sickle"). Earlier harping-iron (mid-15c.). Sense and spelling perhaps influenced by Dutch (cf. Middle Dutch harpoen) or Basque, the language of the first whaling peoples, who often accompanied English sailors on their early expeditions. Also see -oon.


1774, from harpoon (n.). Related: Harpooned; harpooning. For agent-noun forms, harpooner is from 1726; harpooneer from 1610s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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