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 But Leggat’s deal to buy the giant white elephant from the state for the aforementioned sum remains up in the air, nearly seven years later. Jon Chesto, BostonGlobe.com, "Saga of empty Cambridge courthouse tower enters a new chapter," 12 Aug. 2019 And yet, my name is treated like a white elephant in society — an exotic interruption to the conversation among Kristins and Emilies, whose names may be forgettable, but most assuredly don’t make a stir. N'jameh Camara, Teen Vogue, "Names That Are Unfamiliar to You Aren't "Hard," They're "Unpracticed"," 12 July 2019 To create an employee-first atmosphere, the company offers numerous perks throughout the years including a costume contest on Halloween, a winter holiday themed potluck with a white elephant gift exchange and cook off. Leigh Farr, azcentral, "MEDIUM COMPANY RANKINGS:," 13 June 2019 After practicing the religion, the mind becomes controlled, strong, and serene—and is then represented by a white elephant. National Geographic, "6 surprisingly lucky animals around the world," 13 Mar. 2019 Some of the German projects have been derided by government officials as white elephants that never stood a chance of making a profit. Bojan Pancevski, WSJ, "In Win for Trump, Merkel Changes Course on U.S. Gas Imports," 22 Oct. 2018 Without enough ships and guns, the Zumwalts were in danger of becoming the white elephants of the fleet. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "After Only 3 Years in Service, the USS Zumwalt’s Mission Is Changing," 17 May 2019 Despite, or perhaps because of, that fact, this property, long a white whale, is at risk of becoming a white elephant. Alex Bhattacharji, Town & Country, "An Empty Lot Above Beverly Hills Is the Most Expensive Real Estate in the World," 17 Jan. 2019 At the time the Titanic went down, William Howard Taft was president—a good and sweet-natured man who weighed more than 300 pounds, enough to sink a ship by himself: a white elephant of the old decencies. Lance Morrow, WSJ, "Did Chivalry Go Down With the Titanic?," 14 Dec. 2018

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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Statistics for white elephant

Last Updated

10 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for white elephant

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

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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

Comments on white elephant

What made you want to look up white elephant? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


something of little or no value

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