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Nov 15, 2006
This week's theme
Words with a built-in definite article

This week's words
hoi polloi
A Word A Day
the book A Word A Day: A Romp Through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English "Delightful."
-The New York Times

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albatross (AL-buh-tros) noun, plural albatross or albatrosses

1. Any of the Diomedeidae family of large, web-footed seabirds.

2. A persistent wearisome burden, as of guilt, for example.

[Apparently an alteration of Portuguese or Spanish alcatraz, from Arabic al-gattas (the diver, name for a kind of sea eagle).]

See more usage examples of albatross in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

The name of Alcatraz Island near San Francisco, the site of a former maximum security prison, has the same origin.

The metaphorical second sense of the term goes back to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In the poem, a mariner kills an albatross for no reason. His shooting down of the bird brings a curse to the ship, and his shipmates throw the carcass of the dead bird around his neck, thus giving a powerful idiom to the English language. As a penance, the wizened mariner wanders, recounting his tale.

"What started off as a popular war has turned out to be something of an albatross around Mr Bush's neck."
A Push for Bush; Business Standard (New Delhi, India); Nov 9, 2006.


Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action. -George Washington, 1st US president (1732-1799)

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