elephant

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(the) elephant in the room

An obvious truth or fact, especially one regarded as embarrassing or undesirable, that is being intentionally ignored or left unaddressed. We all sat sipping our tea quietly; no one wanting to bring up the elephant in the room about Joel's expulsion from college.
See also: elephant, room

an elephant never forgets

One remembers everything. A play on the idea that elephants have great memories. I don't think we can pick up where we were before you betrayed me because an elephant never forgets! I would be hesitant to cross him—he's a dangerous man, and an elephant never forgets.
See also: elephant, forget, never

elephant ear

1. Any of several varieties of plants that have large, heart-shaped leaves. A: "Look at those enormous leaves!" B: "Oh wow! I guess that's an elephant ear."
2. A puff pastry that is shaped like a palm leaf. Also known as a "palmier." I know I should be eating better, but I couldn't resist getting an elephant ear at the bakery for breakfast.
See also: ear, elephant

elephant ears

Metal discs on the outside of a missile or rocket. The elephant ears on the rocket need to be repaired.
See also: ear, elephant

white elephant

1. An expensive item that is troublesome or useless. The term comes from a story about the king of Siam, who was said to have given an albino elephant, considered sacred, to a member of the court whom he disliked, knowing that taking care of the animal would exhaust the person's fortune. At first, Eve was excited to inherit the farm, but it soon proved to be a white elephant she couldn't afford.
2. A fundraiser in which unwanted items have been donated for sale. The church is having a white elephant sale to raise funds for the new vestibule. I'm excited to see what kind of treasures people bring from their garages!
3. A gift exchange in which participants bring unwanted items that can then be chosen and swapped, depending on the particular rules of the gathering. A: "What's with the ugly vase?" B: "We had a white elephant at work, and this is what I ended up with. I'll probably bring it next year."
See also: elephant, white

have a memory like an elephant

To have an exceptional memory. A play on the idea that elephants have great memories. Mom has a memory like an elephant, so ask her what Joe's phone number is.
See also: elephant, have, like, memory

seeing pink elephants

 and seeing pink spiders; Seeing snakes
intoxicated; recovering from a drinking bout; having the delirium tremens. When I got to the point of seeing pink elephants, I knew that something had to be done. The old one who's shakinghe's probably seeing snakes.
See also: elephant, pink, seeing

white elephant

something that is large and unwieldy and is either a nuisance or expensive to keep up. Bob's father-in-law has given him an old Rolls Royce, but it's a real white elephant. He has no place to park it and can't afford the gas for it. Those antique vases Aunt Mary gave me are white elephants. They're ugly and I have no place to put them.
See also: elephant, white

see the elephant

Experience more than one wants to, learn a hard lesson; also, see combat, especially for the first time. For example, After the expedition lost two climbers in an avalanche, they had seen the elephant and turned back , or On his first tour of duty he saw the elephant. This slangy expression, first recorded in 1835, alludes to having seen all the sights one can see, including that rare beast, and returning home unimpressed or disappointed.
See also: elephant, see

white elephant

An unwanted or useless item, as in The cottage at the lake had become a real white elephant-too run down to sell, yet costly to keep up , or Grandma's ornate silver is a white elephant; no one wants it but it's too valuable to discard . This expression comes from a legendary former Siamese custom whereby an albino elephant, considered sacred, could only be owned by the king. The king would bestow such an animal on a subject with whom he was displeased and wait until the high cost of feeding the animal, which could not be slaughtered, ruined the owner. The story was told in England in the 1600s, and in the 1800s the term began to be used figuratively.
See also: elephant, white

see the elephant

AMERICAN
If you see the elephant, you experience something very extreme, especially war. We marched all day — we were going to see the elephant at last.
See also: elephant, see

a white elephant

COMMON If you describe something such as a new building or project as a white elephant, you mean that it has cost a lot of money but is completely useless. The whole complex was a white elephant, constructed at enormous expense but never used. After 17 years under construction, the factory is still only partly built and is far from being operational. It is in fact, a great white elephant. Note: There is a story that the Kings of Siam used to give white elephants, which are very rare, to courtiers who they did not like. The animals cost so much to keep that their owners spent all their money on them and became very poor.
See also: elephant, white

the elephant in the corner

an embarrassing or awkward topic that everyone is aware of but no one wishes to discuss. An alternative formulation is the elephant in the room .
2003 CNN Of course, the elephant in the corner for all these developments is Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
See also: corner, elephant

see the elephant

see the world; get experience of life. US
An elephant is used here to symbolize or typify something which is extremely remarkable or exotic.
1994 Fighting Firearms These men have all seen the elephant and represent a typical cross-section of the…staff in general.
See also: elephant, see

a white elephant

a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.
In former times, the rare albino elephant was regarded as holy. It was highly prized by the kings of Siam (now Thailand) and its upkeep was extremely expensive. It was apparently the practice for a king of Siam to give one of the elephants to a courtier they disliked: the unfortunate recipient would usually be financially ruined by the attempt to maintain the animal.
See also: elephant, white

the ˌelephant in the ˈroom

a serious problem that everyone is aware of but which they ignore and choose not to mention: The growing budget deficit is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.
See also: elephant, room

see pink ˈelephants

(informal) see things that are not really there, because you are drunk
See also: elephant, pink, see

a white ˈelephant

a thing that is useless and no longer needed, although it may have cost a lot of money: That theatre is a real white elephant. It cost millions to build and nobody ever goes there.This comes from the story that in Siam (now Thailand), the king would give a white elephant as a present to somebody that he did not like. That person would have to spend all their money on looking after the rare animal.
See also: elephant, white

pink elephants

and pink spiders
1. n. the delirium tremens. He was shaking something awful from the pink spiders.
2. n. hallucinatory creatures seen during the delirium tremens. (see also seeing pink elephants.) He said pink elephants were trying to kill him. He’s really drunk.
See also: elephant, pink

seeing pink elephants

and seeing pink spiders and seeing snakes
tv. alcohol intoxicated; recovering from a drinking bout; having the delirium tremens. When I got to the point of seeing pink elephants, I knew that something had to be done. He’s screaming something about seeing pink spiders, and he wants a drink.
See also: elephant, pink, seeing

white elephant

n. a useless or unwanted object. (From the notion that an extremely valuable gift that requires great expense for its care and protection is an unwanted gift.) Take all those white elephants to the flea market.
See also: elephant, white

elephant in the room

A matter or problem that is obvious or of great importance but that is not discussed openly.
See also: elephant, room

white elephant

An expensive but useless possession. Albino elephants are extremely rare, and any born in Siam became the property of the king. These favored specimens were not allowed to be worked or to be killed without the royal permission. As the story goes, the king often perversely gave a white elephant to a courtier who had fallen out of favor, just so the nobleman would spend a small fortune maintaining the useless gift for the rest of its life. Rummage sales in which people donate items for which they (and possibly no one else) have no use are often called “white elephant sales.”
See also: elephant, white
References in classic literature ?
Kala Nag-which means Black Snake-and Nazim were two of the biggest elephants in the lines, and one of their duties was to administer the graver punishment, since no man can beat an elephant properly.
He slapped old friends on the back and asked them if the stumps were coming away easily; he talked nonsense concerning labor and the inalienable rights of elephants to a long "nooning"; and, wandering to and fro, he thoroughly demoralized the garden till sundown, when he returned to his picket for food.
Up-stream, at the bend of the sluggish pool round the Peace Rock, and Warden of the Water Truce, stood Hathi, the wild elephant, with his sons, gaunt and gray in the moonlight, rocking to and fro--always rocking.
Then all looked towards Hathi, the wild elephant, but he seemed not to hear.
Kennedy was intrusted with the job of bringing the elephant to a halt.
The elephant halted, lifted his trunk, and resumed his run toward the wood with all his speed; he shook his huge head, and the blood began to gush from his wounds.
For weeks Tarzan lived with his savage friends, hunting buffalo, antelope, and zebra for meat, and elephant for ivory.
The next day but one a small party of hunters returned to the village from the south to report a large herd of elephant some miles away.
Lastly, the Toxodon, perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered: in size it equalled an elephant or megatherium, but the structure of its teeth, as Mr.
in one day's march with the bullock-waggons, he saw, without wandering to any great distance on either side, between one hundred and one hundred and fifty rhinoceroses, which belonged to three species: the same day he saw several herds of giraffes, amounting together to nearly a hundred; and that although no elephant was observed, yet they are found in this district.
What the former knew was that he was happy in the companionship of the elephant.
They cast apprehensive glances in the direction of the approaching elephant and then back at La.
But presently I guessed the identity of the mighty creature as Elephas africanus, or, as the ancients commonly described it, African elephant.
The gentleman without the elephant is worth five pound.
Fancy having a ridiculous Noah's Ark elephant in the ensign of one's ship," he said once at the engine-room door.