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great bittern
(Botaurus stellaris)
little bittern
(Ixobrychus minutus)
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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English bitour, botor, from Old French butor, from Gallo-Roman *butitaurus, a blend of Latin būtiō (bittern) and taurus (bull, ox).


bittern (plural bitterns)

  1. Several bird species in the Botaurinae subfamily of the heron family Ardeidae.
    • 1819, Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, Rip Van Winkle:
      It is a great rock or cliff on the loneliest part of the mountains, and [] is known by the name of the Garden Rock. Near the foot of it is a small lake, the haunt of the solitary bittern, with water-snakes basking in the sun on the leaves of the pond-lilies which lie on the surface.
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Etymology 2[edit]

From bitter with an unclear suffix, perhaps a dialect form of -ing.


bittern (uncountable)

  1. The liquor remaining after halite (common salt) has been harvested from saline water (brine).
  2. The saline substance added to soy milk to coagulate it as a primary step in the production of tofu.
    • 2019, “The Secrets of Tofu across Japan”, in Seasoning the Seasons[1], NHK World-Japan:
      Now we add the bittern.
  3. (archaic) A very bitter compound of quassia, cocculus indicus, etc., used by fraudulent brewers in adulterating beer.