a white 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

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

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

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
References in classic literature ?
All down the line I had kept an eye for suspicious characters with an eye upon me; but even my self-consciousness failed to discover one; and I reached my haven of peace, and of fresh fell air, feeling, I suppose, much like any other fool who has spent his money upon a white elephant.
The concept is believed to have originated from a Thai King gifting a White Elephant to a subordinate with whom the King was dissatisfied.
3) By exhibiting the elephant, Barnum staged a trick enacting the English definition of a white elephant, playing on British perceptions of 'eastern' decadence and Burmese corruption.
Paul said he thought that most local people were not interested in skiing and, if the centre fails, it will become a white elephant and an eyesore.
BET DAVIES (Viewpoints, November 6) berated JC Bird for calling the Millennium Centre a white elephant and suggesting the Assembly is the same.
Disappointingly, when she at last finds what she thinks is one of these elephants, we don't even know for sure if it is one because only a representative of the King of Thailand can declare the authenticity of a white elephant.
A white elephant captured in October in a jungle area of Myanmar was welcomed in Yangon on Thursday with pomp and festivities, according to state-run newspapers published Friday.
Giving a gift of a white elephant would be done to someone considered an enemy--the idea being that you would eventually wipe out your enemy's wealth with the care of the sacred elephant.
Construction began in 1982, and with a price tag so far of $2 billion, it is considered a white elephant.
Everyone knows the Convention Center is a white elephant,'' Villaraigosa said.
Campaigners against an elected regional assembly unveiled their representation of what it would be - a white elephant.
In Myanmar history, only during the reign of just and virtuous kings, was such a white elephant usually discovered, and the country prospered in peace and tranquillity as a result.
Let's face it, this was a white elephant before,'' said Councilman Hal Bernson, who chairs the committee.
I think it would be a mistake to dump the building just to dump it and to say we don't have a white elephant anymore,'' Romero said.
For more than a year, that has been the only question of importance about the proposal to build a new home for the Los Angeles Kings and Lakers next to the new Convention Center - a white elephant that needs up to $40 million in taxpayer subsidies this year.