from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Any of several very large herbivorous mammals of the family Elephantidae native to Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, having thick, almost hairless skin, a long, flexible, prehensile trunk, upper incisors forming long curved tusks of ivory, and, in the African species, large fan-shaped ears.
  • noun Any of various extinct animals of the family Elephantidae.
  • idiom (elephant in the room) A matter or problem that is obvious or of great importance but that is not discussed openly.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A five-toed proboscidian mammal, of the genus Elephas, constituting a subfamily, Elephantinæ, and comprehending two living species, namely, Elephas indicus and Elephas (Loxodon) africanus.
  • noun The former inhabits India, and is characterized by a concave high forehead, small ears, and comparatively small tusks; the latter is found in Africa, and has a convex forehead, great flapping ears, and large tusks. The tusks occur in both sexes, curving upward from the extremity of the upper jaw. The nose is prolonged into a cylindrical trunk or proboscis, at the extremity of which the nostrils open. The trunk is extremely flexible and highly sensitive, and terminates in a finger-like prehensile lobe. Elephants are the largest quadrupeds at present existing. Their tusks are of great value as ivory, furnishing an important article of commerce, in Africa especially, and occasioning the destruction of great numbers of these animals. Ten species of fossil elephants have been described, of which the best-known is the hairy mammoth, E. primigenius. The mastodons are nearly related to elephants, but form a separate subfamily Mastodontinæ (which see).
  • noun Figuratively, a burdensome or perplexing possession or charge; something that one does not know what to do with or how to get rid of: as, to have an elephant on one's hands; he found his great house very much of an elephant.
  • noun Ivory; the tusk of the elephant.
  • noun A drawing-or writing-paper measuring in America 22x27 inches.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Zoöl.) A mammal of the order Proboscidia and family Elephantidae, of which two living species, Elephas maximus (formerly Elephas Indicus) and Loxodonta Africana (formerly E. Africanus), and several fossil species, are known. They have five toes, a long proboscis or trunk, and two large ivory tusks proceeding from the extremity of the upper jaw, and curving upwards. The molar teeth are large and have transverse folds. Elephants are the largest land animals now existing. The elephant is classed as a pachyderm.
  • noun obsolete Ivory; the tusk of the elephant.
  • noun (Bot.) an East Indian fruit with a rough, hard rind, and edible pulp, borne by Feronia elephantum, a large tree related to the orange.
  • noun (Geol.) at Brighton, England, abounding in fossil remains of elephants.
  • noun (Zoöl.) any very large beetle of the genus Goliathus (esp. G. giganteus), of the family Scarabæidæ. They inhabit West Africa.
  • noun (Zoöl.) a chimæroid fish (Callorhynchus antarcticus), with a proboscis-like projection of the snout.
  • noun paper of large size, 23 × 28 inches.
  • noun paper measuring 263/4 × 40 inches. See Note under Paper.
  • noun (Zoöl.) an African jumping shrew (Macroscelides typicus), having a long nose like a proboscis.
  • noun (Bot.) a name given to certain species of the genus Begonia, which have immense one-sided leaves.
  • noun (Bot.) A genus (Elephantopus) of coarse, composite weeds.
  • noun (Zoöl.) the tooth shell. See Dentalium.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A mammal of the order Proboscidea, having a trunk, and two large ivory tusks jutting from the upper jaw.
  • noun figuratively Anything huge and ponderous.
  • noun paper, printing A printing-paper size measuring 30 inches x 22 inches.
  • noun UK, childish used when counting to add length.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun five-toed pachyderm
  • noun the symbol of the Republican Party; introduced in cartoons by Thomas Nast in 1874


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English elefaunt, from Old French olifant, from Vulgar Latin *olifantus, from Latin elephantus, from Greek elephās, elephant-.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Middle English elefant, elefaunt, from Middle French elephant, learned borrowing from Latin elephantus, from Ancient Greek ἐλέφας (eléphās) (gen. ἐλέφαντος (eléphantos)), compound of Berber *eḷu (“elephant”) (compare Tamahaq (Tahaggart) êlu, (Ghat) alu) and Egyptian 𓍋𓃀𓅱𓌟 (ȝbw) (ābu) ‘elephant; ivory’. More at ivory. Replaced Middle English olifant, which replaced Old English elpend, olfend.


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  • While you may think the elephant is yours and yours alone, even the most solitary of projects are easier to digest with the right team and network in place.

    Women Grow Business » 2009 » June 2009

  • While you may think the elephant is yours and yours alone, even the most solitary of projects are easier to digest with the right team and network in place.

    Women Grow Business » The Emerging Entrepreneur Gives Secrets to ‘How to Eat an Elephant’ 2009

  • In Arabian literature the elephant is always connected with India.

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night 2006

  • This lower jaw seemed incomprehensible, almost a monstrosity -- until it occurred to me that it exactly corresponds to the elongated upper lip and nose which we call the elephant's trunk -- and that the trunk of "Tetrabelodon" must have rested on his long lower jaw.

    More Science From an Easy Chair 1888

  • His snout was drawn out so as to form that wonderful elongated thing with two nostrils at the end which we call the elephant's trunk, and was henceforth transmitted (a first-rate example of an "acquired character") to future generations!

    More Science From an Easy Chair 1888

  • He writes of his safe arrival at what he calls the elephant-pens, and as a matter of course too late.

    Trapped by Malays A Tale of Bayonet and Kris George Manville Fenn 1870

  • The head of an athletic department in the mighty Southeastern Conference says the biggest problem with meeting gender equity is what he calls the elephant in the room: College football.

    News 2010

  • Alvin Blyer, regional director of the Brooklyn office of the NLRB, brought attention to what he described as the elephant in the room: the immigration and legal status of the workers.

    Industrial Workers of the World - One Big Union! 2010

  • Mr. Davies also points to what he calls the elephant in the room - the fact that Britain remains outside of the euro zone.

    DealBook 2009

  • Over the past four years, Maryland's governor and legislators have gone to extraordinary pains to pretend this elephant is not in their living room, even as it strains our fiscal solvency.

    Marylanders deserve more value for their tax dollars Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. 2010


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  • "ivory beast" literally

    February 4, 2009

  • Etymology seems a bit murky.

    February 4, 2009

  • The Greek eléphant- means "ivory" in Homer and other early writers, "elephant" in Herodotus. It has no identifiable earlier history. The resemblance to Hebrew eleph "ox" might be more than coincidental, but if it's a North-West Semitic compound, it's unclear what the second element might have been.

    February 4, 2009

  • Q., is eleph the source of the letter's name aleph (and hence, alpha)? Could the Elephant Man be an Alpha Male, etymologically speaking?

    February 4, 2009

  • Yes, I think eleph is the construct state (form used in compound with a following noun) of aleph, the letter name, the shape A being an ox's head.

    February 4, 2009

  • Happy Elephant Appreciation Day!

    September 23, 2009

  • A unit of paper measurement.

    August 29, 2010

  • Surely this beats scissors.

    August 29, 2010

  • *trumpet!*

    August 29, 2010

  • Sounds like a trumpet beats scissors.

    August 31, 2010

  • Do you know how to eat an elephant?

    August 31, 2010

  • How?

    August 31, 2010

  • See relish.

    August 31, 2010

  • One bite at a time.

    August 31, 2010

  • See also "olfend" (not defined here at wordnik), an old word for "camel" that may be related to "elephant."

    April 26, 2012