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White elephant

From Academic Kids

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RoyalWhiteElephant.jpg
A royal white elephant

A white elephant (also albino elephant) is a rare kind of elephant. In Myanmar two have been found and caught, the second one in 2002 after an elephant finding team had searched for one month [1] (http://www.myanmar.com/Welephant/Yadana.html).

In Thailand, white elephants are sacred and a symbol of royal power; all those discovered are presented to the king (usually this is ceremonial — they are not taken into captivity) and the more white elephants the king has, the greater his standing. The current king Bhumibol Adulyadej owns ten — considered a great achievement, and probably due to modern communications.

A white elephant in Thailand is not necessarily albino, although it must have pale skin. Candidate animals are assessed according to a series of physical and behavioural criteria (including eye colour, the shape of the tail and ears, and intelligence). Those which pass the tests are then assigned to one of four categories and are offered to the king, although the lower grades are sometimes refused.

In the past, lower grade white elephants were given as gifts to the king's friends and allies. The animals needed a lot of care and, being sacred, could not be put to work, so were a great financial burden on the recipient - and only the monarch and the very rich could afford them. According to one story, white elephants were sometimes given as a present to some enemy (often a lesser noble with whom the king was displeased). The unfortunate recipient, unable to make any profit of it, and obliged to take care of it, would suffer bankruptcy and ruin.

Because of this, the term "white elephant" came, in English, to mean a thing which is more trouble than it is worth, or has outlived its usefulness to the person who has it. While the item may be useful to others, its current owner would usually be glad to be rid of it. By reason of this, commercially, a "white elephant" might be available to purchase at a very favorable price. An example of such an item might be a mansion whose maintenance costs exceed the capacity of its owners.

White elephants are also used as a metaphor for an unborn child in Ernest Hemingway's short story, "Hills Like White Elephants".

Other

The NSA maintained two secure document destruction facilities, known as White Elephant 1 and 2.

See also

Reference

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