I have never seen a live albatross. I’ve probably seen pictures of albatrosses, but I can’t, for the live of me, see one in my mind’s eye. Yet when I hear the word albatross it does manage to light up some existing synapses in my brain. Or are they neurons that get lit up? Whichever the case may be, the word albatross resonates rhetorically in my mind.
Before getting into that, first, the definition. An albatross is a large, web-footed sea bird that is related to petrels.
“Albatross around one’s neck” is an idiom that means that you did something in the past that prevents you from achieving success from then on. If you believe in such things, it means that you did something that brings you bad luck.
The expression comes from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Ignore the fact that “rhyme” is spelled wrong in the title of the poem, because it’s not spelled wrong. The word really is rime. Rime is frost that forms by the rapid freezing of water vapor in the air. In literature, rime is a synonym for hoarfrost.
Most people don’t know that. If you didn’t know about the word rime before now you can consider that the thing that you’ve learned for today and go back to sleep because, by tradition, you’re required to learn only one thing every day.
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner the crew of a ship think that an albatross is bringing them good luck because it leads them out of the Antarctic after they were blown there by a storm.
When the ancient mariner kills the albatross, the crew thinks that act is the cause of some bad luck they start having. The crew then makes the ancient mariner wear the albatross around his neck as a sign of the bad luck he brought them. The plot goes on from there and the crew changes its mind a few times and eventually dies off one-by-one until the ancient mariner is the last one left, but that part isn’t relevant to this entry.
The point is, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the origin of the “an albatross around one’s neck” idiom.
You might think that I’m well educated in literature for knowing all this about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and its relation to the idiom. If so, you would be wrong about that.
I haven’t read the poem and I, unlike a great many people, didn’t study it in school. At least, I don’t remember doing either of those things. So my knowledge in this area is not a result of my past education or reading.
That’s what Google is for.
Of course, whether the information I got from the Web is anywhere close to being accurate is a whole different question, so if you are here because you are working a school project on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner don’t count this as a reliable source of information or as an independent validation of another source. You’ve been warned.