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.

1590–1600; < Dutch harpoenOld French harpon a clasp, brooch, equivalent to harp- (< Latin harpē < Greek: hook) + -on diminutive suffix

harpooner, noun
harpoonlike, adjective
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
harpoon (hɑːˈpuːn)
1.  a.  a barbed missile attached to a long cord and hurled or fired from a gun when hunting whales, etc
 b.  (as modifier): a harpoon gun
2.  (tr) to spear with or as if with a harpoon
[C17: probably from Dutch harpoen, from Old French harpon clasp, from harper to seize, perhaps of Scandinavian origin]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

1613, from Fr. harpon, from O.Fr. harpon "cramp iron, clamp" (described as a mason's tool for fastening stones together), from harper "to grapple, grasp," possibly of Gmc. origin, or from L. harpa- "hook" (cf. harpagonem "grappling hook," from Gk. *harpagon, related to harpe "sickle"). Earlier harping-iron
(1596). Sense and spelling perhaps infl. by Du. (cf. M.Du. harpoen) or Basque, the first whaling peoples, who usually accompanied Eng. sailors on their early expeditions.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Britannica


barbed spear used to kill whales, tuna, swordfish, and other large sea creatures, formerly thrown by hand but now, in the case of whales, shot from especially constructed guns

Learn more about harpoon with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
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.
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.
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