This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Word To Use Today: albatross.

Albatross...well, that alba at the beginning must be something to do with the fact that albatrosses are mostly pale, mustn't it, from the Latin albus, which means white?

Umm...not really. Well, just a bit - but only because people didn't know what they were talking about.

It's an interesting word, is albatross. An albatross can be a large sea bird (though albatross originally meant pelican); it can mean inescapable burden (this meaning arose from Coleridge's poem about the Ancient Mariner); or it can mean holing out at golf in three under par.

So that's (in reverse order) one good thing, one bad thing, and one case of mistaken identity: yes, albatross is an anarchically splendid word.

It's a splendid bird, too:

File:Black-browed Albatross, Beagle Channel.jpg
Black-browed Albatross. Photo by David

Albatrosses dance when they're courting and pair for life, and an albatross's wingspan can be up to 3.7 metres. A Laysan Albatross called Wisdom may, at the age of about sixty five, be the oldest wild bird in the world. 

Their splendour has given rise to the golfing term: a birdie (one stroke under par) is jolly good, an eagle is great, and an albatross is absolutely tremendous.

And quite right, too.

Word To Use Today: albatross. This word comes from the Arabic al câdous, the diver, which meant pelican. By the time it had got to English via Portuguese it had turned into alcatraz and meant gannet or frigate bird. Frigate birds being basically dark and albatrosses light, the word probably got nudged towards the form albatross because of the Latin albus, which means white. Pleasingly, the modern Portuguese for albatross, albatroz, comes from the English.

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