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[hahr-poon] /hɑrˈpun/
a barbed, spearlike missile attached to a rope, and thrown by hand or shot from a gun, used for killing and capturing whales and large fish.
(initial capital letter) Military. a jet-powered, radar-guided U.S. Navy cruise missile with a high explosive warhead designed for use against surface ships and launchable from a surface vessel, submerged submarine, or aircraft.
verb (used with object)
to strike, catch, or kill with or as if with a harpoon.
Origin of harpoon
1590-1600; < Dutch harpoenOld French harpon a clasp, brooch, equivalent to harp- (< Latin harpē < Greek: hook) + -on diminutive suffix
Related forms
harpooner, noun
harpoonlike, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for harpoon
  • The earliest records of his presence reveal him as a fisher and hunter, with rude flint-pointed spear and harpoon.
  • Four centuries ago locals made breakthroughs in harpoon technology and the use of nets to slow down migrating whales.
  • People used to harpoon three-meter long swordfish in rowboats.
  • One little worm can shoot a harpoon out of its head to stab its prey.
  • The cone shell hunts fish with a venom-tipped harpoon, or extendable tooth.
  • The harpoon is rigged with a hot wire that electrocutes the fish.
  • During college she was the lookout and helmsman on a swordfish harpoon boat.
  • The shark is speared with a roped harpoon and drags first one, then two, and finally three barrels as the humans try to shoot it.
  • harpoon categories as described in the proposed action.
  • The commercial take of coastal pelagic species by round haul net and swordfish by harpoon is allowed.
British Dictionary definitions for harpoon


  1. a barbed missile attached to a long cord and hurled or fired from a gun when hunting whales, etc
  2. (as modifier): a harpoon gun
(transitive) to spear with or as if with a harpoon
Derived Forms
harpooner, harpooneer, noun
harpoon-like, adjective
Word Origin
C17: probably from Dutch harpoen, from Old French harpon clasp, from harper to seize, perhaps of Scandinavian origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for harpoon

1610s, from French harpon, from Old French harpon "cramp iron, clamp, clasp" (described as a mason's tool for fastening stones together), from harper "to grapple, grasp," possibly of Germanic origin, or from Latin harpa- "hook" (cf. harpagonem "grappling hook," from Greek *harpagon, related to harpe "sickle"). Earlier harping-iron (mid-15c.). Sense and spelling perhaps influenced by Dutch (cf. Middle Dutch harpoen) or Basque, the language of the first whaling peoples, who often accompanied English sailors on their early expeditions. Also see -oon.


1774, from harpoon (n.). Related: Harpooned; harpooning. For agent-noun forms, harpooner is from 1726; harpooneer from 1610s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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