White Elephant Idiom Meaning and Sentence

Learn the meaning of the ‘White Elephant’ idiom and how it is used in sentences. Discover examples, case studies, and statistics related to this common expression.

What is a White Elephant?

The white elephant idiom comes from the tradition of giving sacred white elephants as gifts in Southeast Asia. These elephants were considered a burden to their recipients due to the high cost of their upkeep. In the modern context, a ‘white elephant’ refers to a possession or project that is expensive and difficult to maintain, often more trouble than it’s worth.

Meaning of the Idiom

When someone refers to something as a ‘white elephant,’ they mean that it is a useless or burdensome possession that drains resources without providing any benefit.

Examples of Usage

  • The new sports car he bought turned out to be a white elephant, as it broke down constantly and cost a fortune to repair.
  • The extravagant statue in the park has become a white elephant, as it requires constant cleaning and maintenance.

Case Studies

One famous example of a white elephant project is the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The construction of this iconic building ran massively over budget and behind schedule, leading to significant financial strain on the government.


A study found that companies waste an average of 20% of their budgets on white elephant projects that fail to deliver the expected results.

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