An Albatross Around the Neck


This picture was taken by JJ Harrison ( and obtained through

An albatross is a large-winged web-footed bird noted for gliding over the waters.

Originally, the word is derived from the Spanish and Portugese word “alcatraz” and it means pelican.

If I have an albatross around my neck, I certainly do not carry this large bird around my neck. So, what does it mean? Figuratively, albatross means something that hinders or handicaps your ability to do something. When I carry an albatross around my neck it means that I wear something that will stop me from succeeding at my endeavor. No. Not really because once again the neck is used figuratively. We carry nothing around our neck, but we do carry burdens that are hard to get rid of.

Think of debt, maybe the student loan. It is huge and there is no end in sight of when it will be paid off. It is an albatross around my neck.How in the world can I buy a new car or a house with that much debt? Or being in a bad relationship with no signs of it getting better is an albatross around my neck. The relationship continues to cause problems. It’s an albatross — something that almost seems like a curse to deal with. Will it ever go away?


Photo taken by D Ramey Logan and obtained through

What I think is interesting about the origin of this word is “alcatraz.” Off San Francisco’s coast in California there stands a large prison on a rock that is named alcatraz. Although it was only a prison for 30 years, it is widely known because of its remoteness of being surrounded by water (and I have heard shark infested waters) where the most troublesome prisoners were taken to spend their days. It is said that no one escaped from this island prison. The word definitely fits the description of being such a burden that it is considered a curse.

This is one of those idioms that is not commonly used, but upon occasion, I do hear the phrase. But, no, there are no birds around anyone’s neck. As with some of our idioms, it is very hard to figure out what is really meant, so when you hear about the albatross, it means bearing a burden where there is little hope of having it resolved soon.


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Filed under figurative expression, idioms

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