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    • Join Date: Aug 2005
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    #1

    'White elephant"

    In what context(s) can we use the expression "white elephant"?
    Thank you for helping

  1. rewboss's Avatar

    • Join Date: Feb 2006
    • Posts: 1,552
    #2

    Re: 'White elephant"

    A white elephant is something that is presented as a gift or a benefit, but turns out to be a bad thing -- usually because it's expensive. For example, a government might introduce some reforms to help small businesses, but to finance the reforms business taxes have to be raised, forcing lots of small businesses to close down. That would be a white elephant.

    The phrase probably has its origins in a story involving a ruler somewhere in India. He would sometimes give as a gift a white elephant to a subject he didn't like. The subject would be forced to accept the gift, as it would be a terrible insult to refuse; but elephants are very expensive to keep, and so the unlucky recipient would soon find himself penniless.


    • Join Date: Aug 2005
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    #3

    Re: 'White elephant"

    Thank you very much for your prompt reply. The historical dimension is very interesting and enlightening.


    • Join Date: May 2006
    • Posts: 1,335
    #4

    Re: 'White elephant"

    Hi, Raguilli,
    According to my dictionary a white elephant is a costly or troublesome possession useless to its owner. I have never seen any context. I wonder if the following situation could fit this definition:
    I was given a big nice picture of an exotic plant for my birthday, which upset me greatly - I live in a small flat and the picture would be an eyesore; besides I prefer a chaste style with no or minimal decorations.
    I can neither hang the picture nor throw it away, it's a white elephant. Luckily, the person who gave it lives in another city and I don't have to find excuses for not hanging the picture.
    I hope somebody tells us whether I used the idiom correctly.
    Cheers


    • Join Date: Aug 2005
    • Posts: 22
    #5

    Re: 'White elephant"

    Thanks a lot. Your example is illustrative of the definition of your dictionary. It's very helpful. Thanks again.

  2. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: 'White elephant"

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    A white elephant is something that is presented as a gift or a benefit, but turns out to be a bad thing -- usually because it's expensive. For example, a government might introduce some reforms to help small businesses, but to finance the reforms business taxes have to be raised, forcing lots of small businesses to close down. That would be a white elephant.

    The phrase probably has its origins in a story involving a ruler somewhere in India. He would sometimes give as a gift a white elephant to a subject he didn't like. The subject would be forced to accept the gift, as it would be a terrible insult to refuse; but elephants are very expensive to keep, and so the unlucky recipient would soon find himself penniless.
    Elephants were very valuable as work animals. The white elephant, however, was only an expense because it was sacred and could not be abandoned or worked. Thus, it had no practical value. At least that's how the story goes.

  3. BobK's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: 'White elephant"

    White elephant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    There's an interesting collocation - maybe known only in some UK contexts - a white elephant stall. It is a table at a fund-raising event, with useless junk for sale on it; the phrase "white elephant" there seems to have lost its original connotations of 'large, animate, and with costs of upkeep that outweigh its value'.

    b


    • Join Date: Aug 2005
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    #8

    Re: 'White elephant"

    Rewboss, Humble, MikeNewYork and Bobk,
    I would like to thank you all for your very precious help. I learnt beyond expectation. This site is really the best place for learning and improving English.

    Raguilli

  4. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: 'White elephant"

    Quote Originally Posted by Raguilli View Post
    Rewboss, Humble, MikeNewYork and Bobk,
    I would like to thank you all for your very precious help. I learnt beyond expectation. This site is really the best place for learning and improving English.

    Raguilli
    You're welcome, Raguilli.

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