White Elephant Definition

A rare whitish or light-gray form of the Asian elephant, often considered sacred in parts of South and Southeast Asia.
American Heritage

An albino elephant.

Something from which little profit or use is derived; esp., such a possession maintained at much expense.
Webster's New World
A possession that provides few benefits and is an inconvenience or a financial burden to maintain.
American Heritage
Any object no longer desired by its owner, but of possible value to others.
Webster's New World

Other Word Forms of White Elephant


white elephant

Origin of White Elephant

  • In Siam elephants were working animals. However, white (albino) elephants were considered sacred and therefore were not to be put to work. The owner was then left to feed the elephant but could get no work from it. It is said that the King of Siam used to make a present of a white elephant to courtiers he wanted to ruin.

    From Wiktionary

  • Sense 2, in reference to a story that when the kings of Siam wished to ruin an offending courtier, they would give him a white elephant, which the courtier then had to maintain at great expense

    From American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition

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white elephant