el·​e·​phan·​ti·​a·​sis | \ ˌe-lə-fən-ˈtī-ə-səs How to pronounce elephantiasis (audio) , -ˌfan- \
plural elephantiases\ ˌe-​lə-​fən-​ˈtī-​ə-​ˌsēz How to pronounce elephantiasis (audio) , -​ˌfan-​ \

Definition of elephantiasis

1 : enlargement and thickening of tissues (as from chronic lymphedema) specifically : the enormous enlargement of a limb or the scrotum caused by obstruction of lymphatic vessels by filarial worms (especially Wuchereria bancrofti)
2 : an undesirable usually enormous growth, enlargement, or overdevelopment elephantiasis of the imagination

Did you know?

In Latin elephantiasis referred to a kind of leprosy in which the skin takes on the appearance of an elephant's hide. The word is still used in the medical field for various infectious skin diseases in which the affected part becomes grossly enlarged. The first known figurative use of "elephantiasis" is by English author George Meredith in a letter dated December 22, 1866. In that letter, he ribs an acquaintance for his exaggerated description of the size of a mackerel, telling him that he has "become the victim of a kind of mental elephantiasis."

Examples of elephantiasis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In another example, which Doyle and other students witnessed, a patient came in to see Bell for treatment for early-stage elephantiasis. Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker, 31 Jan. 2022 But the film suffers from a different condition, an emotional elephantiasis that is inexorable and ultimately terminal. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, 24 Sep. 2021 He was recognized by the World Health Organization for his work in the Cook Islands helping stamp out the tropical disease lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis. Nick Perry, Star Tribune, 5 Sep. 2020 The history of Phoenix, from outpost through oasis to elephantiasis, is written in channeled water. Longreads, 10 Aug. 2020 In news from around the world: Vienna unveils plans to build a 25-story wooden skyscraper; the Indian government provides free pills to prevent elephantiasis; and more. Sarah Lewin Frasier, Scientific American, 1 May 2015 Though most infected people show no symptoms, some can go on to develop lymphedema (tissue swelling), elephantiasis (skin and tissue thickening), and such scrotal swelling, called hydrocele. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, 18 Oct. 2019 The worm that caused Hannah’s elephantiasis was also once widespread. The Economist, 23 June 2018 The team believes Nyan htoo had a condition called elephantiasis, in which a person (or, in this case, an animal) experiences swelling of body parts to the point of disfiguration. Amy B Wang, Alaska Dispatch News, 27 Oct. 2017 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'elephantiasis.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of elephantiasis

1562, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for elephantiasis

New Latin, from Latin, a kind of leprosy, from Greek, from elephant-, elephas

Learn More About elephantiasis

Time Traveler for elephantiasis

Time Traveler

The first known use of elephantiasis was in 1562

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About elephantiasis

Dictionary Entries Near elephantiasis

elephant gun



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for elephantiasis

Cite this Entry

“Elephantiasis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elephantiasis. Accessed 27 Jun. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for elephantiasis


el·​e·​phan·​ti·​a·​sis | \ ˌel-ə-fən-ˈtī-ə-səs How to pronounce elephantiasis (audio) , -ˌfan- How to pronounce elephantiasis (audio) \
plural elephantiases\ -​ˌsēz How to pronounce elephantiasis (audio) \

Medical Definition of elephantiasis

: enlargement and thickening of tissues (as from chronic lymphedema) specifically : the enormous enlargement of a limb or the scrotum caused by obstruction of lymphatics by filarial worms of the genus Wuchereria (W. bancrofti) or a related genus (Brugia malayi)


Test Your Vocabulary

Great Words for Scrabble

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!