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albatross

[al-buh-traws, -tros]
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noun
  1. any of several large, web-footed sea birds of the family Diomedeidae that have the ability to remain aloft for long periods.Compare wandering albatross.
  2. a seemingly inescapable moral or emotional burden, as of guilt or responsibility.
  3. something burdensome that impedes action or progress.
  4. Textiles.
    1. a lightweight worsted fabric with a crepe or pebble finish.
    2. a plain-weave cotton fabric with a soft nap surface.
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Origin of albatross

1675–85; variant of algatross frigate bird < Portuguese alcatraz pelican, probably < Arabic al-ghaṭṭāṣ a kind of sea eagle, literally, the diver; -b- for -g- perhaps by association with Latin albus white (the bird's color)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for albatross

albatross

noun
  1. any large oceanic bird of the genera Diomedea and Phoebetria, family Diomedeidae, of cool southern oceans: order Procellariiformes (petrels). They have long narrow wings and are noted for a powerful gliding flightSee also wandering albatross
  2. a constant and inescapable burden or handicapan albatross of debt
  3. golf a score of three strokes under par for a hole
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Word Origin

C17: from Portuguese alcatraz pelican, from Arabic al-ghattās, from al the + ghattās white-tailed sea eagle; influenced by Latin albus white: C20 in sense 2, from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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 albatross

n.

1670s, probably from Spanish or Portuguese alcatraz "pelican" (16c.), perhaps derived from Arabic al-ghattas "sea eagle" [Barnhart]; or from Portuguese alcatruz "the bucket of a water wheel" [OED], from Arabic al-qadus "machine for drawing water, jar" (from Greek kados "jar"), in reference to the pelican's pouch (cf. Arabic saqqa "pelican," literally "water carrier"). Either way, the spelling was influenced by Latin albus "white." The name was extended, through some mistake, by English sailors to a larger sea-bird (order Tubinares).

Albatrosses were considered good luck by sailors; figurative sense of "burden" (1936) is from Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798) about the bad luck of a sailor who shoots an albatross and then is forced to wear its corpse as an indication that he, not the whole ship, offended against the bird. The prison-island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay is named for pelicans that roosted there.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper