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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Aug 07, 2005 11:58 pm

• albatross •

Pronunciation: æl-bê-trôs • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A large web-footed sea bird with a hooked beak and long, narrow wings, of the family Diomedeidae, that flies the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere. 2. A curse, a constant burden, an obstacle to success. 3. In golf, a score of 3 under par on a hole, one less stroke than an eagle.

Notes: This poor bird was accidentally maligned by a poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The albatross was beloved by ancient seamen because it flew so far out from shore, it was usually the first indication of land seen on board inbound ships. In Coleridge's poem, a seaman killed an albatross then had to wear its carcass around his neck in penance. The plural is albatrosses.

In Play: Speakers of all languages find references to animals much more striking and memorable than references to objects or abstractions. That makes today's Good Word an ear-catching metaphor in all situations: "Mom, Billy is such an albatross! Why do I have to stay home and baby-sit him again?" Just look around for clever applications, "Jess Gough called her husband 'Al Batross' for several years before he finally caught on and took offense."

Word History: Today's Good Word probably started out as Latin alcatras "pelican" (or the Portuguese or Spanish version, alcatraz) but shifted under the influence of Latin albus "white". The Latin word was borrowed from Arabic al-gattas, comprising al- "the" + gattas "diver, sea eagle". Arabic gattas is the noun from gatasa "to plunge, dive". Now you also know where Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, home of the infamous prison, got its name.
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Postby Brazilian dude » Mon Aug 08, 2005 11:51 am

The first time I saw an albatross was in Woody Woodpecker.

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Postby Flaminius » Mon Aug 08, 2005 9:19 pm

I finally knew what is albatross in Japanese. It is ahoodori (idiot bird).

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Postby M. Henri Day » Mon Aug 22, 2005 8:17 am

Flaminius wrote:... It is ahoodori (idiot bird).

It is easy to imagine that the term «阿呆鳥» arises from the bird's lack of fear of humans, which as mostly everyone (or thing) which has encountered the latter species has been quick to learn, can have deleterious consequences. In Chinese as well, the bird has been used to symbolise rigidity and lack of intellectual agility (the ancients thought that it sat still and neglected to catch fish which swam before its very eyes), but its name in that language is rather more poetic than that used in Japanese, viz 信天翁 - «old man of the skies». We must hope that it will not be caught up in the wave of marine extinctions, on the cusp of which scientists fear we now stand....


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