What's the origin of the phrase ‘to have an albatross around one’s neck’?

This popular idiom is an allusion to English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798), in which an albatross is shot by the eponymous mariner, bringing feelings of insurmountable guilt upon him and disaster upon his crew:

Ah! Well-a-day! What evil looks

Had I from old and young!

Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung,

Nowadays, these words have been repurposed as an accusatory phrase, often used to describe an unfortunate mishap or mistake.

The poor decision has been an albatross around his neck for years.

Read more about this idiom and other phrases with poetic origins on the OxfordWords blog.

 

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