Definition of spermaceti in English:



  • A white waxy substance produced by the sperm whale, formerly used in candles and ointments. It is present in a rounded organ in the head, where it focuses acoustic signals and aids in the control of buoyancy.

    • ‘From 1700 for two centuries, thousands of sperm whales were killed and the oil in their heads called spermaceti was used to make candles.’
    • ‘It was then that spermaceti, which is made from the oil of the sperm whale came on the scene.’
    • ‘Still, whale-related products remained in high demand, especially the fine oil derived from spermaceti (the oil extracted from the head of sperm whales).’
    • ‘However, these animal- and plant-derived oils, such as colza, olive, and spermaceti, were generally of such weight and viscosity that they would travel only one to two inches up a wick.’
    • ‘Kokam butter, as found in the bazaars of India, consists of egg-shaped or concavo-convex cakes of a dirty white or yellowish colour, friable, crystalline, and with a greasy feel like spermaceti.’
    • ‘In Bénard cells, which also form on the surface of the sun, the organizing gradient is literally a temperature gradient across a viscous fluid, sometimes spermaceti, sperm whale oil.’
    • ‘There are other farms in other places, each devoted to a single bloom; there are even whaling boats on the Atlantic harvesting ambergris and spermaceti.’
    • ‘Other important waxes include carnauba wax and spermaceti.’
    • ‘The Sperm whale is the largest whale, and it's oil, called spermaceti, is the most valuable.’
    • ‘Some ziphiids are pursued by whalers for their oil and spermaceti.’
    • ‘Not only did the increased movement of both air and oil to the wick enable the solar lamp to burn brighter, but higher priced oils like spermaceti were not required to achieve these advantageous results.’
    • ‘The valuable products of whaling, including whale oil, whalebone, and spermaceti for candle-making, provided the bulk of NSW's exports during the 1830s.’


Late 15th century: from medieval Latin, from late Latin sperma sperm + ceti of a whale (genitive of cetus, from Greek kētos whale), from the belief that it was whale spawn.