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A.Word.A.Day--white elephant

Pronunciation RealAudio

white elephant (hwyt, wyt EL-uh-fent) noun

1. An expensive, rare possession costing a lot to maintain.

2. A possession no longer of value to its owner.

3. An albino elephant.

[From the King of Siam's reputed practice of awarding a white elephant to a courtier who had fallen out of favor. A white elephant was considered sacred and couldn't be put to work, so the upkeep of the animal would ruin its owner.]

"Having spent N85 billion, you said NEPA will still need more money to get to its maximum efficiency. ... How can you convince Nigerians that NEPA is not a white elephant project?" Olalekan Bilesanmi; Nigerians Don't Want to Pay; Vanguard (Apapa, Nigeria); Sep 7, 2003.

"Mirabel (airport) is open for business - it is staffed by a team of bored security guards immaculately clad in Canadian Mountie-style hats. The only things missing are the flights and passengers. The airport, 45 miles north of Montreal, is Canada's most notorious white elephant." Andrew Clark; Lesson of Canadian Airport in Terminal Decline; The Guardian (London, UK); Sep 23, 2003.

This week's theme: words originating in Southeast Asian countries.

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