A depiction of a white elephant in 19th centur...
A depiction of a white elephant in 19th century Thai art. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


white elephant

: white elephant \WYTE-EL-uh-funt\ noun

1 : a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit 2 : an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others 3 : something of little or no value


The town’s white elephant is the run-down but historic theater, which has been closed for several years but still requires thousands of dollars in maintenance costs. “An artificially low interest rate … makes vast amounts of capital available to crony capitalists at cheap rates for speculative investment, which has swelled the GDP and left the Chinese landscape strewn with white elephants such as palatial municipal buildings, factories that stand still and empty hotels.” — From an article by Mark Leonard in New Statesman, January 14, 2013

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.




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