What does the idiom "white elephant" mean?
Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does white elephant mean? In what situations is white elephant used?
Meaning of "white elephant"
The phrase 'white elephant' has come to mean a possession that is burdensome or expensive to maintain, yet useless or of limited value. It is often used to describe a gift or possession that is received and considered to be an unwelcome burden, as the cost of ownership often outweighs any benefit it brings.
The origin of the phrase 'white elephant' is believed to have come from the ancient practice of kings of Siam (now Thailand), who bestowed a white elephant on members of their court whom they considered to have offended them. These white elephants were considered sacred and thus could not be put to work or given away, leaving their owners to bear the burden of upkeep and feeding.
The phrase 'white elephant' is used to describe a possession that is both costly and burdensome to maintain and of limited or even negative value. It is often used in reference to a gift or possession that was received and considered to be an unwelcome burden, as the cost of ownership often outweighs any benefit it brings.
- My aunt gave me an old sewing machine, which has turned out to be a real white elephant. It's too complicated for me to use, and I can't even find anyone who wants to buy it.
- When we bought our house, we thought it was a great deal — but it's turned out to be a white elephant. The repairs have been constant and expensive, and we haven't been able to get our money back.
- I got a new car for my birthday, but it's turned out to be a white elephant. I'm having trouble paying for the gas, and I can hardly afford the insurance.
Idioms with similar meaning
"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.