Wednesday, December 19, 2007

White Elephants

Miss Etta, a few days ago we were discussing gifts we did not want but had to keep. I knew there was a term for those unwanted gifts, but could not reach deep enough into my mind to pluck it out.

Today I came across it while reading. It is, as you see above, white elephant.

I have used and heard that term all of my life but I have never thought much about what it means or how it came to be. So today, in my not-so-spare time, I did a little research.

The term comes from Thailand by way of Britain. In Thailand the white, or albino, elephant is very rare. For many long centuries it was considered sacred and the elephants were claimed by members of the royal family. They were the only ones who could afford to keep an elephant like that on exhibition for everyone to admire.

When some poor soul incurred the wrath of a royal, they were sometimes punished by receiving the gift of the white elephant of the royal. They were required to keep it and feed it. They weren't allowed to use the elephant for work.

Over time, the British, seeing the practice, started using the phrase to mean an unwanted gift that you had to keep and couldn't give away.

Isn't that fascinating? I find words so very interesting. Almost any word you can say or write has a history worth looking into. Every day new words are being created and added to our vocabulary and older words are taking on new meaning. We use words in everyday language today that would have had our Mamas washing our mouths out with soap when we were younger. Some words we use would have had us in leg irons a few generations back.

Times roll on and change happens.

Have a restful night,
Miss Faye

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