• synonyms


[pel-i-kuh n]
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  1. any of several large, totipalmate, fish-eating birds of the family Pelecanidae, having a large bill with a distensible pouch.
  2. a still or retort with two tubes that leave the body from the neck, curve in opposite directions, and reenter the body through the belly.

Origin of pelican

before 1000; Middle English pellican, Old English < Late Latin pelicānus, variant of pelecān < Greek pelekā́n
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for pelican

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • "It was only to her own people she could do that," said the Pelican.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • The Egret settled to her nest again and the Pelican went on with the story.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • The Pelican by this time had got rid of her load of fish and settled herself for conversation.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • The real cause of the excitement we soon learned was the arrival of the Pelican.

  • Fig. 148 is an illustration of the well-known emblem, the Pelican in her piety.

British Dictionary definitions for pelican


  1. any aquatic bird of the tropical and warm water family Pelecanidae, such as P. onocrotalus (white pelican): order Pelecaniformes. They have a long straight flattened bill, with a distensible pouch for engulfing fish

Word Origin

Old English pellican, from Late Latin pelicānus, from Greek pelekān; perhaps related to Greek pelekus axe, perhaps from the shape of the bird's bill; compare Greek pelekas woodpecker
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 pelican


Old English pellicane, from Late Latin pelecanus, from Greek pelekan "pelican" (so used by Aristotle), apparently related to pelekas "woodpecker" and pelekys "ax," perhaps so called from the shape of the bird's bill. Spelling influenced in Middle English by Old French pelican. Used in Septuagint to translate Hebrew qaath. The fancy that it feeds its young on its own blood is an Egyptian tradition properly belonging to some other bird. Louisiana has been known as the Pelican state at least since 1859.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper