white elephant


Definition of white elephant

1 : an Asian elephant of a pale color that is sometimes venerated in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar
2a : a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit
b : an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others
c : something of little or no value

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Did You Know?

The real white elephant (the kind with a trunk) is a pale pachyderm that has long been an object of veneration in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar. Too revered to be a beast of burden, the white elephant earned a reputation as a burdensome beast, one that required constant care and feeding but never brought a single cent (or paisa or satang or pya) to its owner. One story has it that the kings of Siam (the old name for Thailand) gave white elephants as gifts to those they wished to ruin, hoping that the cost of maintaining the voracious but sacred mammal would drive its new owner to the poorhouse.

Examples of white elephant in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web During the virtual event, participants will see all the photos of the gifts and be able to swap the gifts just like in a real white elephant exchange. Cheyann Neades, Better Homes & Gardens, "How to Plan the Ultimate Long-Distance Gift Exchange," 4 Dec. 2020 Who misses the boisterous boss in a Santa suit and the mandatory white elephant gift exchange? Deborah Vankin Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Tipsy co-workers, ugly sweaters: The all-too-real office holiday party at LACMA," 21 Nov. 2020 The famous bake table, with cheese balls, jams and jellies, and the eclectic white elephant tables, will still be part of the market, as will the delicious meals. Tracy Trobridge, baltimoresun.com, "Both old and new traditions continue in Western Howard during the pandemic | Glenwood/Glenelg/Dayton," 6 Nov. 2020 The progressive dining experience begins with a drink at the Raffles’s atmospheric Elephant Bar, whose signature cocktail, Airavata—a fruity rum-and-coconut concoction—is named for the mythical white elephant ridden by Indra, the Hindu king of gods. Alexandra Kirkman, Fortune, "This newly revamped luxury hotel is the best reason to visit Siem Reap this year," 1 July 2020 The seawall, conceived in the early 1990s to reclaim land for agriculture, is the country’s most famous white elephant. The Economist, "South Korea’s government wants greener energy. Who will pay for it?," 15 June 2019 Some of the most interesting white elephant gifts included a seductive Michelangelo cooking apron from our travels to Italy this summer and some anti-diarrhea pills as a gag gift. Mikayla Pivec | For The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, "Mikayla Pivec’s Oregon State women’s basketball diary: 12-0 but far from perfect, Christmas parties, reflecting on the passing of Chad Finn," 3 Jan. 2020 Long the white elephant of New Jersey, American Dream took 16 years and three owners to build, and was previously named Xanadu. Washington Post, "The future of American skiing may be inside a New Jersey mall," 7 Jan. 2020 Long the white elephant of New Jersey, American Dream took 16 years and three owners to build, and was previously named Xanadu. Karen Heller, Anchorage Daily News, "The future of American skiing may be inside a New Jersey mall," 8 Jan. 2020

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

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First Known Use of white elephant

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of white elephant was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

16 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“White elephant.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/white%20elephant. Accessed 24 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for white elephant

white elephant


English Language Learners Definition of white elephant

: something that requires a lot of care and money and that gives little profit or enjoyment

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for white elephant

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