white elephant

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for November 15, 2019 is:

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 white elephant exchange—aka dirty Santa, aka Yankee swap—has many names and many, many rules.… Guests arrive with a wrapped gift, usually under a certain price point, and aim to leave with the ‘best’ gift in the room.” — Becky Hughes, Parade, 10 Nov. 2018

“The foundation’s application for tax credits is formal recognition that The Avalon plays a role in economic development. That’s pretty good validation for a theater that has been criticized for being a white elephant.” — editorial, The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, Colorado), 18 Sept. 2019

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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