\ \ [17] The word albatross has a confused history. The least uncertain thing about it is that until the late 17th century it was alcatras; the change of the first element to albaseems to have arisen from association of the albatross’s white colour with Latin albuswhite’. However, which particular bird the alcatras was, and where the word alcatras ultimately came from, are much more dubious.
\ \ The term was applied variously, over the 16th to the 19th centuries, to albatrosses, frigate birds, gannets, gulls, and pelicans. Its immediate source was Spanish and Portuguese alcatrazpelican’ (hence Alcatraz, the prison-island in San Francisco Bay, USA, once the haunt of pelicans), which was clearly of Arabic origin, and it has been speculated that it comes from Arabic al qādūsthe bucket’, on the premise that the bucket of a water-wheel used for irrigation resembles a pelican’s beak. Arabic qādūs itself comes from Greek kádosjar’.

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

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  • albatross — [al′bə trôs΄, al′bəträs΄] n. pl. albatrosses or albatross [altered, prob. infl. by albus, white < Sp alcatraz, lit., pelican < Port, pelican, orig., bucket < Ar al qādūs, water wheel basket, scoop < Gr kados, cask, jar; prob. < Heb …   English World dictionary

  • Albatross — Al ba*tross, n. [Corrupt. fr. Pg. alcatraz cormorant, albatross, or Sp. alcatraz a pelican: cf. Pg. alcatruz, Sp. arcaduz, a bucket, fr. Ar. al q[=a]dus the bucket, fr. Gr. ka dos, a water vessel. So an Arabic term for pelican is water carrier,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • albatross — (n.) 1670s, probably from Spanish or Portuguese alcatraz pelican (16c.), perhaps derived from Arabic al ghattas sea eagle [Barnhart]; or from Port. alcatruz the bucket of a water wheel [OED], from Arabic al qadus machine for drawing water, jar… …   Etymology dictionary

  • albatross — [n] burden cross to bear, disgrace, load, millstone, misery, woe; concepts 532,690 …   New thesaurus

  • albatross — ► NOUN (pl. albatrosses) 1) a very large seabird with long narrow wings, found chiefly in the southern oceans. 2) a burden or encumbrance (in allusion to Coleridge s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). ORIGIN alteration (influenced by Latin albus… …   English terms dictionary

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