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'around your neck

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 01, 2006

In Reply to: 'around your neck posted by RRC on May 31, 2006

: : to have it 'around your neck'
: : is this from the original noose, meaning you're in a lot of bother.

: In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", a dead albatross is hung around the neck of the mariner as a sign of his guilt.

The ancient mariner's crime was to kill an albatross. There was a mariner's legend to the effect that killing an albatross would bring you and your ship a lot of very bad luck. As RRC says, an albatross was hung round the neck of the ancient mariner, a token of his guilt from which he could never escape. As the OED explains it: "b. fig. [In allusion to Coleridge's Ancient Mariner: see sense 2a quot. 1798.] A source or mark of misfortune, guilt, etc., from which one cannot (easily) be free; a burden or encumbrance. Cf. MILLSTONE 3a.
1936 DYLAN THOMAS in First Comment Treasury 77 The old forget the grief, Hack of the cough, the hanging albatross. 1955 O. NASH in McCall's July 6/2 For when you're cross, Amanda, I feel an albatross Around my neck. 1963 Times 16 Feb. 9/7 The Director of Recruiting, with the albatross of '165,000' removed from about his neck, has already started to attack the problem of balance....

The "sense 2a. quot." is "1798 COLERIDGE Anc. Mar. II. xiv, Instead of the cross, the albatross About my neck was hung."

I know not if the albatross legend really existed before Coleridge. Captain Cook remarked that he had shot one and found it good eating.

Since World War II, the albatross, the largest sea bird in the world, has been in a losing fight for its existence. The largest problem is "pirate fishermen," who fish for toothfish, the chief food of the albatross, with long lines, which capture and drown the birds as well as destroying their food supply.