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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 harpooner
Historical Examples
  • While we were waiting, Tom Lokins, who was harpooner of the boat, sat just behind me with all his irons ready.

    Fighting the Whales R.M. Ballantyne
  • The order when the harpooner has thrown his harpoon into the whale.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • This was to our harpooner, Tom Lokins, who jumped up on the instant, and buried two harpoons deep in the blubber.

    Fighting the Whales R.M. Ballantyne
  • The harpooner, Simpson, picked it up and brought it to its owner.

  • The harpooner who leaped overboard, escaped certain death by the act,—the tail having struck the very spot on which he stood.

  • Selecting the largest of the three as his victim, our harpooner carefully laid his gun.

    The Great Frozen Sea Albert Hastings Markham
  • The boat approached the side of the younger fish, and the harpooner buried his tremendous weapon deep in the ribs.

    Frank Mildmay Captain Frederick Marryat
  • The harpooner moved quick as light, for all the power of the thrust he put behind his stroke.

    The Sea Bride Ben Ames Williams
  • North, recognising the voice as that of a young man named Macy, his own harpooner, at once bade him enter.

  • He sent Silva, the harpooner, to get the fo'm'st hands together forward and keep them there under his eye.

    The Sea Bride Ben Ames Williams
British Dictionary definitions for harpooner


  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 harpooner



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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