a 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."
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.
a white elephanta 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.
a white ˈelephanta 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.
white elephant, a
An unwanted possession that is hard to get rid of but too valuable to throw away. The term comes from a widely told story of an ancient Siamese custom whereby only the king could own an albino elephant, which therefore was considered sacred. When the king was displeased with a courtier, he would give him such a white elephant and wait until the high costs of feeding the beast—being sacred, it could not be killed—caused the man to be ruined. The custom became known in England in the seventeenth century, and by the nineteenth century the term had been transferred to other unwanted items. G. E. Jewsbury wrote, “His services are like so many white elephants of which nobody can make use, and yet that drain one’s gratitude” (letter, 1851).
See also: white