Elephant in the Room

Also:
elephant in the corner
white elephant in the room
pink elephant in the room

Meaning of Idiom ‘Elephant in the Room’

The elephant in the room is a topic that is sensitive, awkward, or embarrassing and that no one wants to talk about but which is difficult to ignore; a topic that everyone is aware of but everyone avoids discussing. 1Bengelsdorf, Peter. Idioms in the News – 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples. N.p.: Amz Digital Services, 2012.,2Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,3Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.


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Usage

This idiom is often confused with the idiom white elephant to become ‘the white elephant in the room.’ Sometimes a pink elephant is mentioned, perhaps to lend more strength to the idiom. However, pink elephants are sometimes the subject of their own idiom, describing the hallucinations or imaginings of those intoxicated by heavy drinking. The 800-pound gorilla is often substituted for elephant, although the gorilla idiom actually has a different meaning when used properly. See the video above for full explanation.

Examples Of Use

“Everyone gathered around the coffee maker this morning and talked about what they watched on TV this weekend, ignoring the elephant in the room, the impending sale of the company.”

“We keep talking about manmade climate change and how to reduce emissions but the elephant in the room is overpopulation. How do solve that?

“While Walmart and Target vie to be top players in the eCommerce market, the elephant in the room has always been Amazon.

“Builders in Florida are aware of one very dangerous elephant in the room. Florida’s karst landscape and the constant possibilities of sinkholes. Even a careful evaluation of a property is no guarantee.”

Origin

The origin of this idiom is unknown. It has been used since at least 1935 and has become increasingly popular, especially in news articles. 4Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

More Idioms Starting with E

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More Elephant Idioms

More Room Idioms

 

Sources   [ + ]

1. Bengelsdorf, Peter. Idioms in the News – 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples. N.p.: Amz Digital Services, 2012.
2, 4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
3. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.