from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A waxy grayish substance formed in the intestines of sperm whales and found floating at sea or washed ashore. It is added to perfumes to slow down the rate of evaporation.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish color, produced in the intestines of the sperm whale. It is used in perfumes.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A substance of the consistence of wax, found floating in the Indian Ocean and other parts of the tropics, and also as a morbid secretion in the intestines of the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), which is believed to be in all cases its true origin. In color it is white, ash-gray, yellow, or black, and often variegated like marble. The floating masses are sometimes from sixty to two hundred and twenty-five pounds in weight. It is wholly volatilized as a white vapor at 212° Fahrenheit, and is highly valued in perfumery.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A morbid secretion of the liver or intestines of the spermaceti whale, the Catodon (Physeter) macrocephalus; a solid, opaque, ash-colored, inflammable substance, lighter than water, of a consistence like that of wax, and having when heated a fragrant odor.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. waxy substance secreted by the sperm whale and found floating at sea or washed ashore; used in perfume


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Middle English, from Old French ambre gris : ambre, amber; see amber + gris, gray; see grisaille.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old French ambre gris ("grey amber").


  • Believe it or not, ambergris is also considered gourmet food.

    The Best Stuff on Earth?!

  • Though the word ambergris is but the French compound for grey amber, yet the two substances are quite distinct.

    Moby-Dick, or, The Whale

  • By any name ambergris was the standard of wealth of the age.


  • But as to the raw ambergris which is not swallowed, it floweth over the channel and congealeth on the banks and when the sun shineth on it, it melteth and scenteth the whole valley with a musk-like fragrance: then, when the sun ceaseth from it, it congealeth again.

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night

  • Also, the ones that I will probably not be able to get for a long time if at all - such as ambergris and East Indian sandalwood I have enough in stock to make Gigi for a whilte.

    Archive 2008-11-01

  • But as to the raw ambergris which is not swallowed, it floweth over the channel and congealeth on the banks, and when the sun shineth on it, it melteth and scenteth the whole valley with a musk-like fragrance.

    Tehran Winter

  • A curious case of a substance valued as perfume by civilised man, and yet coming from a source whence sweet odours would hardly be expected, is that which is known as "ambergris," or "ambre gris" (grey amber).

    More Science From an Easy Chair

  • The substance called "ambergris" (grey amber), valued to-day as a perfume, is a fæcal concretion similar to a bezoar-stone.

    More Science From an Easy Chair

  • Moreover, he spread before each of them a sash of white silk and bringing forth of his pocket precious stones and perfumes, such as ambergris and aloes-wood, (set them on the edges thereof) [86] after which they sat down, each on his sash, and Mubarek taught Zein ul Asnam these words, which he should say to the King of the Jinn, to wit: "O my lord King of the Jinn, we are in thy safeguard."

    Alaeddin and the Enchanted Lamp

  • And not because of food as much as for their oil and ambergris.

    Should we let some endangered species die? » E-Mail


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  • Usage note on spices and another on perfumer. Also this:

    The most esteemed (and staggeringly expensive) medicinal perfumes were four animal products: ambergris (from sperm whales], castoreum (from certain kinds of beavers), musk (from a small Tibetan deer), and civet (from a kind of wild cat). ... Ambergris ... could be found washed up on Indian Ocean beaches (usually in East Africa because of the winds and tides). The connection with whales was dimly and inconsistently understood. Some Arab authorities ... asserted that ambergris came from a fountain at the bottom of the sea or that it was a kind of marine fungus. ... Pharmaceutical manuals, such as Circa instans and its French translation from the 1400s ... were more confident that it was produced by whales. Marco Polo informs his readers on the basis of his knowledge of the Indian Ocean that ambergris comes from whales. ... 

    "Ambergris tends to be gray and surprisingly lightweight in relation to its mass, resembling an aromatic version of pumice. It has a compelling smell that seems to combine perfume, the sea, and some primordial animal scent. It was often confused with amber, another lightweight substance often found on beaches. The word for 'amber' and 'ambergris' is the same in most languages, and our term 'ambergris' comes from the French for 'gray amber.'"

    Paul Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2008), 15-16.

    A note about its relative value and how it was packed for long-distance trade can be found on fondaci.

    October 9, 2017

  • This word was also used in the "Master And Commander" movie.

    June 20, 2012

  • A reason why whales are a species superior to human beings. Humans would have to be able to poop gold to be comparable.

    March 25, 2010

  • A sweet aromatick juice or perfume so called. There is amber of four colours, white, gray, red, and black, which comes according to the variety of places or regions where it is found. The gray is preferred before all the others, and is known to be good if, when pricking it witha pin, delivers forth a moisture like oyle.

    The fume of it is good against the falling~sickness and comfortable to the brain.

    Thomas Blount, Glossographia, 1656

    Like all aromatic substances, ambergis is slightly antispasmodic and excitant, but is oftener employed as perfume than medicine.

    Robley Dunglison, Dictionary of Medical Sciences, 1844

    February 4, 2009

  • Citation on pomatum.

    July 29, 2008

  • I'm reminded of Roseanne from that Futurama episode.

    April 10, 2008

  • Every time I see this word, I am reminded of the young man in Master and Commander (the film) who follows it up with "... and all the gems of Araby."

    April 8, 2008

  • "'Our surgeon rather fancied it originated in the whales themselves, but he could not really make it out. The fact that it was waxy and as he said un-animal puzzled him to the end.' ...

    "'I have never seen ambergris,' said Mowett. 'What is it like?'

    "'A smooth rounded mass of no particular shape,' said Allen. 'Dark mottled or marbled grey when first you take it out, rather waxy and strong smelling, not very heavy: then after a while it grows lighter-coloured and much harder and takes to smelling sweet.'

    "'Eggs and ambergris was Charles II's favourite dish,' observed Martin..."

    --Patrick O'Brian, The Far Side of the World, 106

    February 20, 2008

  • Petrified Whale Vomit = name of my next band

    May 15, 2007

  • Courtesy of the OED:

    "Praise is like ambergris; a little whiff of it, by snatches, is very agreeable; but when a man holds a whole lump of it to his nose, it is a stink and strikes you down." (c1720 POPE in Swift's Wks. (1841) I. 837)

    February 3, 2007

  • There are a lot of "maybes" and "coulds" in this article.

    December 19, 2006

  • That was a great article.

    December 18, 2006

  • From the New York Times, December 18, 2006:

    In this season of strange presents from relatives, Dorothy Ferreira got a doozy the other day from her 82-year-old sister in Waterloo, Iowa. It was ugly. It weighed four pounds. There was no receipt in the box.

    Inside she found what looked like a gnarled, funky candle but could actually be a huge hunk of petrified whale vomit worth as much as $18,000.

    "I called my sister and asked her, 'What the heck did you send me?' " recalled Ms. Ferreira, 67, who has lived here on the eastern tip of Long Island since 1982. "She said: 'I don't know, but I found it on the beach in Montauk 50 years ago and just kept it around. You're the one who lives by the ocean; ask someone out there what it is.' "

    So Ms. Ferreira called the Town of East Hampton's department of natural resources, which dispatched an old salt from Montauk named Walter Galcik.

    Mr. Galcik, 80, concluded that the mysterious gift might be ambergris, the storied substance created in the intestines of a sperm whale and spewed into the ocean. Also called "whale's pearl" or "floating gold," ambergris is a rare and often valuable ingredient in fine perfumes.

    December 18, 2006