Nov 8, 2013

What's in a Name, White Elephant

Sacred white elephants were and are kept by some Southeast Asian monarchs. Possessing a white elephant was regarded, and still is in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity.

It derives from stories that the kings of Siam would make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who were obnoxious or unpleasing, in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. A white elephant was a valuable, but burdensome possession, which its owner could not dispose of and whose cost and upkeep was out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.

These days a white elephant can mean an object, business venture, etc., that is without practical use or value. The term is used in business and even more frequently used during the gift-giving holiday season as friends and relatives strive to find unique gifts to give. Many people consider dried fruit cakes as white elephants.