from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A rare, expensive possession that is a financial burden to maintain.
- n. Something of dubious or limited value.
- n. An article, ornament, or household utensil no longer wanted by its owner.
- n. An endeavor or venture that proves to be a conspicuous failure.
- n. A rare whitish or light-gray form of the Asian elephant, often regarded with special veneration in regions of southeast Asia and India.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. An albino elephant.
- n. An possession that is unwanted or is a financial burden; an unprofitable investment.
from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English
- adj. see white elephant in the vocabulary.
- Something requiring much care and expense to maintain and yielding little profit, and often difficult to sell; any burdensome possession.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. a valuable possession whose upkeep is excessively expensive
- n. albinic Indian elephant; rare and sometimes venerated in east Asia
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. (Wiktionary)
I remember as a boy how he brought his gospel to New York, and P.T. Barnum with Tom Thumb and the white elephant never made such a sensation.
It’s always been understood the doctor came in for a white elephant when he got Chippingwood.