Definition of white elephant in English:

white elephant


  • A possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.

    • ‘A brief trawl through the great white elephants of recent years should be enough to sound alarm bells so loud the so-called London 2012 Olympic team will pack up and go home.’
    • ‘Accused of being an expensive white elephant, the pressure's been on to re-energise the site.’
    • ‘Some of the projects will have immediate impact; others long term; while some may become white elephants.’
    • ‘Suddenly, with the burgeoning stadium looming not as the salvation but as a dangerous white elephant, they sank to bottom of the table.’
    • ‘Could a new school become a white elephant if parents refuse to send their children there?’
    • ‘Key to Portugal's successful bid was its pledge to provide 10 stadiums, rather than the required eight, but there are concerns that some of those will turn into white elephants once the championships are over.’
    • ‘Nevertheless, this appears to be tempered by a wariness of creating costly white elephants on the Clydeside.’
    • ‘A lot of this spend, said IDC, will be on 3G networks, which have been dismissed in some quarters as expensive white elephants.’
    • ‘The ship is widely perceived as a white elephant.’
    • ‘The wave of ‘urban renewal’ in the 1950s and '60s gave us the devastated inner cities of today, and many projects become expensive, taxpayer-funded white elephants.’
    • ‘He said international Olympic chiefs are anxious that no projects be undertaken in London if there is a risk of them becoming white elephants after the Games.’
    • ‘Opponents say they will be hugely expensive white elephants which could cost taxpayers a fortune.’
    • ‘As such, the film stands as a beautiful white elephant, a flagrant waste of time and resources.’
    • ‘York would gain absolutely nothing in having an airport, except perhaps a huge white elephant that would cost a large amount of money.’
    • ‘Last month, Bradford Chamber of Commerce and Industry branded the idea of a Yorkshire assembly as an expensive white elephant.’
    • ‘Many of those same Carnegie libraries have now become white elephants.’
    • ‘The main fears are that the scheme will either cause traffic chaos in Whitby - or will simply be a huge flop, leaving the town with a potential white elephant.’
    • ‘In villages for example, a lot of projects have become white elephants while others have completely failed to take off due to lack of participation and involvement of the grassroots level community.’
    • ‘We could end up with a load of white elephants, huge stadia and pools, rather than local facilities.’
    • ‘Critics have branded it a white elephant and waste of money, and criticised the decision to ‘waste’ quality parkland on such a project.’
    useless things, discarded things, rubbish, clutter, stuff, odds and ends, bits and pieces, bric-a-brac, oddments, flotsam and jetsam, white elephants
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From the story that the kings of Siam gave such animals as a gift to courtiers considered obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the great expense incurred in maintaining the animal.


white elephant

/ˌ(h)wīd ˈeləfənt/