10.  Albatross Around Your Neck?:

A popular stand-up comic would probably ask "albatross around your neck -- now what is that all about?"  

People often ask why are albatross associated with bad luck or an unfortunate burden to bear.  The use of the phrase has been distorted over the years.  The original meaning, dating back more than two centuries ago, is a symbol of misfortune brought on oneself by senseless acts.  It is a reminder of shame for misdeeds.

The phrase comes from the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" written by Samuel Coleridge in 1798.  In that poem, a dead albatross was hung around the neck of a sailor who had killed it for no good reason, basically for sport to try out his bow.  In the days of the sailing ships, albatross were considered a good omen and a help to the sailors.  Since the albatross were masters of the wind, watching them glide above the ship gave the sailors clues about conditions essential to wind powered ships.

In the poem, the ship was beset with major problems after the sailor needlessly killed the albatross.  The ship became stranded in the Doldrums, an area in the ocean without dependable wind.  Sailors began to die of thirst, as described by the line from the poem "Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink."  The ancient mariner survived but lived with the shame of his act, symbolized by the albatross around his neck.




Return to Contents