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early 14c., "whalebone," from Old French balaine (12c.) "whale, whalebone," from Latin ballaena, from Greek phallaina "whale" (apparently related to phallos "swollen penis," probably because of a whale's shape), from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, inflate, swell" (see bole). Klein writes that the Greek to Latin transition was "through the medium of the Illyrian language, a fact which explains the transition of Gk. -ph- into Latin -b- (instead of -p-)."
series of stiff keratinous plates in the mouths of baleen whales, used to strain plankton from seawater. Whalebone was once important in the production of corsets, brushes, and other goods