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sperm whale

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noun
  1. a large, square-snouted whale, Physeter catodon, valued for its oil and spermaceti: now reduced in number and rare in some areas.

Origin of sperm whale

First recorded in 1825–35
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
British Dictionary definitions for sperm whale

sperm whale

noun
  1. a large toothed whale, Physeter catodon, having a square-shaped head and hunted for sperm oil, spermaceti, and ambergris: family PhyseteridaeAlso called: cachalot

Word Origin

C19: short for spermaceti whale
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 sperm whale

n.

1830, shortening of spermaceti whale (so called because the waxy substance in its head was mistaken for sperm), from spermaceti (1471), from Medieval Latin sperma ceti "sperm of a whale," from Latin sperma (see sperm) + cetus "large sea animal" (see Cetacea). The substance in olden times was credited with medicinal properties, as well as being used for candle oil.

Use ... Sperma Cete ana with redd Wyne when ye wax old. [Sir George Ripley, "The Compound of Alchemy," 1471]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper