White elephant
A white elephant is an idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

 for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth. The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam (now Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

) were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtier
A courtier is a person who is often in attendance at the court of a king or other royal personage. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together...

s who had rendered themselves obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. In modern usage, it is an object, scheme, business venture, facility, etc., considered to be without use or value.


The term derives from the sacred white elephants
White elephant (pachyderm)
A white elephant is a rare kind of elephant, but not a distinct species. Although often depicted as snow white, their skin is normally a soft reddish-brown, turning a light pink when wet. They have fair eyelashes and toenails....

 kept by Southeast Asian monarchs in Burma, Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, Laos
Laos Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west...

 and Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

. To possess a white elephant was regarded (and is still regarded in Thailand and Burma) as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. The tradition derives from tales which associate a white elephant with the birth of the Buddha
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

, as his mother was reputed to have dreamed of a white elephant presenting her with a lotus flower
Nelumbo nucifera
Nelumbo nucifera, known by a number of names including Indian Lotus, Sacred Lotus, Bean of India, or simply Lotus, is a plant in the monogeneric family Nelumbonaceae...

, a symbol of wisdom and purity, on the eve of giving birth. Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a gift of a white elephant from a monarch was simultaneously both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the animal was sacred and a sign of the monarch's favour, and a curse because the animal had to be retained and could not be put to much practical use, but cost a significant amount to maintain.

The Order of the White Elephant
Order of the White Elephant
The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant is the most awarded order of Thailand. It was established in 1861 by King Rama IV of the Kingdom of Siam.The Order consists of eight classes:...

 consists of eight grades of medal
A medal, or medallion, is generally a circular object that has been sculpted, molded, cast, struck, stamped, or some way rendered with an insignia, portrait, or other artistic rendering. A medal may be awarded to a person or organization as a form of recognition for athletic, military, scientific,...

s issued by the government of Thailand.

In the nineteenth century the phrase became commonplace, in common use at church bazaars called “white elephant sales” where donors could unload unwanted bric-a-brac, generating profit from the phenomenon that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Many organizational and church fairs still use the term today. In general use a “white elephant” usually refers to an item that’s not useful (decorative) but may be expensive and odd.

Examples of alleged white elephant projects

  • The U.S. Navy's s were described as "white elephants" because the "tactical and strategic concepts that inspired them were completely outmoded" by the time they were commissioned – the Japanese heavy cruisers that they were designed to hunt down had already been destroyed.
  • The U.S. Navy's Seawolf-class
    Seawolf class submarine
    The Seawolf class is a class of nuclear-powered fast attack submarines in service with the United States Navy. The class was the intended successor to the , ordered at the end of the Cold War in 1989. At one time, an intended fleet of 29 submarines was to be built over a ten-year period, later...

     submarine was designed to combat the then-threat of large numbers of advanced Soviet ballistic missile and attack submarines in a deep ocean environment. Initially planned for 29 and then 12, only three were built at a cost of over $2.5 billion each. The three were extensively retrofitted for their new, shallow-water missions with the most expensive boat retrofit costing $887 million.
  • Bristol Brabazon
    Bristol Brabazon
    The Bristol Type 167 Brabazon was a large propeller-driven airliner, designed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company to fly transatlantic routes from the United Kingdom to the United States. The prototype was delivered in 1949, only to prove a commercial failure when airlines felt the airliner was too...

    , an airliner built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company
    Bristol Aeroplane Company
    The Bristol Aeroplane Company, originally the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was both one of the first and one of the most important British aviation companies, designing and manufacturing both airframes and aero engines...

     in 1949 to fly a large number of passengers on transatlantic
    Transatlantic flight
    Transatlantic flight is the flight of an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean. A transatlantic flight may proceed east-to-west, originating in Europe or Africa and terminating in North America or South America, or it may go in the reverse direction, west-to-east...

     routes from the United Kingdom
    United Kingdom
    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

     to the United States
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

  • Concorde
    Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner, a supersonic transport . It was a product of an Anglo-French government treaty, combining the manufacturing efforts of Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation...

    , a supersonic transport
    Supersonic transport
    A supersonic transport is a civilian supersonic aircraft designed to transport passengers at speeds greater than the speed of sound. The only SSTs to see regular service to date have been Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144. The last passenger flight of the Tu-144 was in June 1978 with its last ever...

     built by Aérospatiale
    Aérospatiale was a French aerospace manufacturer that built both civilian and military aircraft, rockets and satellites. It was originally known as Société Nationale Industrielle Aérospatiale...

     and British Aircraft Corporation
    British Aircraft Corporation
    The British Aircraft Corporation was a British aircraft manufacturer formed from the government-pressured merger of English Electric Aviation Ltd., Vickers-Armstrongs , the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Hunting Aircraft in 1960. Bristol, English Electric and Vickers became "parents" of BAC with...

    , intended for high-speed intercontinental passenger travel. Only fourteen production aircraft were built, though it was planned that development costs were to be amortized
    Amortization is the process of decreasing, or accounting for, an amount over a period. The word comes from Middle English amortisen to kill, alienate in mortmain, from Anglo-French amorteser, alteration of amortir, from Vulgar Latin admortire to kill, from Latin ad- + mort-, mors death.When used...

     over hundreds of units: the British and French governments incurred large losses as no aircraft could be sold on commercial terms. Concorde flew the transatlantic route for over two decades, and it did at least make a big operating profit for British Airways.
  • SS Great Eastern
    SS Great Eastern
    SS Great Eastern was an iron sailing steam ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and built by J. Scott Russell & Co. at Millwall on the River Thames, London. She was by far the largest ship ever built at the time of her 1858 launch, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the...

    , a ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel
    Isambard Kingdom Brunel
    Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS , was a British civil engineer who built bridges and dockyards including the construction of the first major British railway, the Great Western Railway; a series of steamships, including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship; and numerous important bridges...

    . She was the largest ship ever built at the time of her launch in 1858, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refuelling, but was not a commercial success. Her hold was later gutted and converted to lay the successful 1865 transatlantic telegraph cable
    Transatlantic telegraph cable
    The transatlantic telegraph cable was the first cable used for telegraph communications laid across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. It crossed from , Foilhommerum Bay, Valentia Island, in western Ireland to Heart's Content in eastern Newfoundland. The transatlantic cable connected North America...

    , an impossible task for a smaller vessel.
  • The Thai
    Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

     aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Nareubet
    HTMS Chakri Nareubet
    HTMS Chakri Naruebet is the flagship of the Royal Thai Navy , and Thailand's first and only aircraft carrier...

     has been criticized as having been built for nationalist reasons rather than applicable military uses. It has spent little time at sea since being commissioned in 1997 (the year of the Asian Economic Crisis) due to her high operating costs. However, the ship has participated in training activities, and in disaster relief after the 2004 tsunami
    2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
    The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was an undersea megathrust earthquake that occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on Sunday, December 26, 2004, with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The quake itself is known by the scientific community as the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake...

    . Ironically, the Royal Thai Navy
    Royal Thai Navy
    The Royal Thai Navy is the navy of Thailand and part of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, it was established in the late 19th century. Admiral Prince Abhakara Kiartiwongse is "The Father of Royal Thai Navy". Similar to the organizational structure of the United States, the Royal Thai Navy includes the...

     ensign actually features a white elephant.
  • Hughes H-4 Hercules
    Hughes H-4 Hercules
    The Hughes H-4 Hercules is a prototype heavy transport aircraft designed and built by the Hughes Aircraft company. The aircraft made its only flight on November 2, 1947 and the project was never advanced beyond the single example produced...

     (or "Spruce Goose"), often called Howard Hughes
    Howard Hughes
    Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was an American business magnate, investor, aviator, engineer, film producer, director, and philanthropist. He was one of the wealthiest people in the world...

    ' white elephant before and during the Senate War Investigating Committee
    Senate War Investigating Committee
    The Senate War Investigating Committee was formed by R. Owen Brewster in 1947 to investigate contracts delivered to Hughes Aircraft for the Hughes XF-11 and Hughes H-4 Hercules...

    . Hughes' associate Noah Dietrich
    Noah Dietrich
    Noah Dietrich was an American business executive, who acted as Chief Executive Officer of the Howard Hughes empire from 1925 until 1957, when, according to his own memoir, he left the Hughes operation over a dispute involving putting more of his income on a capital gains basis. The manuscript of...

     called it a "plywood white elephant".
  • Lambert-St. Louis International Airport
    Lambert-St. Louis International Airport
    Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is a Class B international airport serving Greater St. Louis. It is located approximately northwest of downtown St. Louis in unincorporated St. Louis County between Berkeley and Bridgeton. It is the largest and busiest airport in the state with 250 daily...

     runway 11/29 was conceived on the basis of traffic projections made in the 1980s and 1990s that warned of impending strains on the airport and the national air traffic system as a result of predicted growth in traffic at the airport. The $1 billion runway expansion was designed in part to allow for simultaneous operations on parallel runways in bad weather. Construction began in 1998, and continued even after traffic at the airport declined following the 9/11 attacks, the purchase of Trans World Airlines
    Trans World Airlines
    Trans World Airlines was an American airline that existed from 1925 until it was bought out by and merged with American Airlines in 2001. It was a major domestic airline in the United States and the main U.S.-based competitor of Pan American World Airways on intercontinental routes from 1946...

     by American Airlines
    American Airlines
    American Airlines, Inc. is the world's fourth-largest airline in passenger miles transported and operating revenues. American Airlines is a subsidiary of the AMR Corporation and is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas adjacent to its largest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport...

     in April 2001, and subsequent cuts in flights to the airport by American Airlines in 2003. The project required the relocation of seven major roads and the demolition of approximately 2,000 homes in Bridgeton, Missouri
    Bridgeton, Missouri
    Bridgeton is a city in northwestern St. Louis County, Missouri, serving as a suburb and transport hub within Greater St. Louis. The population at the 2010 census was 11,550. Portions of Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport are within Bridgeton.-Location:...

    . Intended to provide superfluous extra capacity for flight operations at the airport, use of the runway is shunned by fuel-conscious pilots and airlines due to its distance from the terminals. Even one of the airport commissioners, John Krekeler, deemed the project a "white elephant".
  • The Millennium Dome
    Millennium Dome
    The Millennium Dome, colloquially referred to simply as The Dome or even The O2 Arena, is the original name of a large dome-shaped building, originally used to house the Millennium Experience, a major exhibition celebrating the beginning of the third millennium...

     in London, built at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds in Greenwich in London to celebrate the millennium, was commonly termed a white elephant. The exhibition it initially housed was less successful than hoped and the widely criticised building struggled to find a role after the event. It is now The O2
    The O2 (London)
    The O2, visually typeset in branding as The O2, is a large entertainment district on the Greenwich peninsula in South East London, England, including an indoor arena, a music club, a Cineworld cinema, an exhibition space, piazzas, bars and restaurants...

    , an arena and entertainment centre.
  • The Palace of the Parliament
    Palace of the Parliament
    The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania is a multi-purpose building containing both chambers of the Romanian Parliament. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Palace is the world's largest civilian administrative building, most expensive administrative building, and...

     in Bucharest
    Bucharest is the capital municipality, cultural, industrial, and financial centre of Romania. It is the largest city in Romania, located in the southeast of the country, at , and lies on the banks of the Dâmbovița River....

    , Romania
    Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

    . Built by dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu
    Nicolae Ceausescu
    Nicolae Ceaușescu was a Romanian Communist politician. He was General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and as such was the country's second and last Communist leader...

     as the world's second largest building (second to The Pentagon
    The Pentagon
    The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself.Designed by the American architect...

    ). After the 1989 overthrow the cost of demolishing the palace would have been higher than the cost of finishing it.
  • Christ's Hospital railway station was constructed in 1902 to accommodate Christ's Hospital
    Christ's Hospital
    Christ's Hospital is an English coeducational independent day and boarding school with Royal Charter located in the Sussex countryside just south of Horsham in Horsham District, West Sussex, England...

     school, a large independent school which had relocated from London to the West Sussex countryside. The station had seven platforms and a magnificent terminal building, and cost £30,000 to build, an enormous sum of money for 1902. It was envisaged that the station would be busy due to the 850 pupils regularly using it, and also the foreseen westward expansion of the nearby town of Horsham
    Horsham is a market town with a population of 55,657 on the upper reaches of the River Arun in the centre of the Weald, West Sussex, in the historic County of Sussex, England. The town is south south-west of London, north-west of Brighton and north-east of the county town of Chichester...

    . It was also the meeting point of three separate railway lines. However, the railway company failed to realise that the school is a boarding school, as a result of which the station is only used by large numbers of pupils a handful of times per year; and the development of Horsham did not materialise. Two of the railway lines also closed down in the 1960 as a result of the Beeching Axe
    Beeching Axe
    The Beeching Axe or the Beeching Cuts are informal names for the British Government's attempt in the 1960s to reduce the cost of running British Railways, the nationalised railway system in the United Kingdom. The name is that of the main author of The Reshaping of British Railways, Dr Richard...

    , and the station now has two remaining platforms (one northbound to London Victoria, one southbound to Portsmouth), and one train per hour in each direction.
  • Montréal-Mirabel International Airport
    Montréal-Mirabel International Airport
    Montréal-Mirabel International Airport, originally called Montréal International Airport and widely known simply as Mirabel is an airport located in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada, northwest of Montreal and was opened October 4, 1975...

     is North America's largest airport, but has been abandoned as a passenger airport.
  • The Philadelphia Athletics baseball team was referred to as a "white elephant" by rival New York Giants
    San Francisco Giants
    The San Francisco Giants are a Major League Baseball team based in San Francisco, California, playing in the National League West Division....

    Manager (baseball)
    In baseball, the field manager is an individual who is responsible for matters of team strategy on the field and team leadership. Managers are typically assisted by between one and six assistant coaches, whose responsibilities are specialized...

     John McGraw
    John McGraw
    John McGraw may refer to:* John McGraw , , New York lumber tycoon, and one of the founding trustees of Cornell University* John McGraw , , Governor of Washington state from 1893–1897...

     prior to their meeting in the 1905 World Series
    1905 World Series
    - Game 1 :Monday, October 9, 1905 at Columbia Park in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaA pitchers' duel took place between Christy Mathewson and Eddie Plank. Both pitchers got out of jams and were able to shut the offense down. In the Giants top of the fifth, Mathewson singled, but was forced by Roger...

    . Although the Athletics lost that series, in defiance they adopted an elephant as an alternate team logo
    A logo is a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition...

     and eventually as a full-fledged mascot
    The term mascot – defined as a term for any person, animal, or object thought to bring luck – colloquially includes anything used to represent a group with a common public identity, such as a school, professional sports team, society, military unit, or brand name...

  • Olympic Stadium
    Olympic Stadium (Montreal)
    The Olympic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of Montreal, Quebec, Canada built as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics...

     in Montreal
    Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

     cost about C$
    Canadian dollar
    The Canadian dollar is the currency of Canada. As of 2007, the Canadian dollar is the 7th most traded currency in the world. It is abbreviated with the dollar sign $, or C$ to distinguish it from other dollar-denominated currencies...

    1.61 billion. Since the departure of the Montreal Expos
    Montreal Expos
    The Montreal Expos were a Major League Baseball team located in Montreal, Quebec from 1969 through 2004, holding the first MLB franchise awarded outside the United States. After the 2004 season, MLB moved the Expos to Washington, D.C. and renamed them the Nationals.Named after the Expo 67 World's...

     baseball team in 2004, it has had no main tenant. The debt from the stadium wasn't paid in full until December 2006. Because of the financial disaster in which it left Montreal, it was nicknamed "The Big Owe", "Uh-O", and "The Big Mistake".
  • Osborne House
    Osborne House
    Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. The house was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a summer home and rural retreat....

    , East Cowes, Isle of Wight
    Isle of Wight
    The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...

    , England, was one of Queen Victoria's favourite royal residences. She died there on January 22, 1901. In her will, she asked that it be kept in the Royal Family
    British Royal Family
    The British Royal Family is the group of close relatives of the monarch of the United Kingdom. The term is also commonly applied to the same group of people as the relations of the monarch in her or his role as sovereign of any of the other Commonwealth realms, thus sometimes at variance with...

    , but none of her family wanted it, so Edward VII gave Osborne to the nation. With the exception of Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice, who each retained houses on the estate, the rest of the royal family saw Osborne as something of an inaccessible white elephant.
  • M74 Northern Extension
    M74 motorway
    The A74 and M74 motorways form a major motorway in Scotland. Following an extension opened on 28 June 2011, it connects the M8 motorway west of Glasgow to the English border at Gretna, creating an alternative route for traffic moving from the south to the west of the city...

    , Glasgow, Scotland, opened in 2011. Originally costed at £177m, the road's final cost was estimated at £692m for just 5 miles of road. Its intended purpose was to reduce congestion in Glasgow, but it was rejected at a Public Local Inquiry, for reasons that included the likely failure to improve congestion. The report concluded: "Drawing these various strands together, and looking at all the policy, transport, environmental, business, and community disadvantages of the proposal as a whole, it is concluded that the proposal would be very likely to have very serious undesirable results; and that the economic and traffic benefits of the project arising from the transfer of future jobs from other parts of Scotland would be much more limited, more uncertain, and (in the case of the congestion benefits) probably ephemeral.", but Scottish Ministers overturned the Inquiry's report and approved construction. The project has been described as a white elephant by local campaigners.
  • The Ryugyong Hotel
    Ryugyong Hotel
    The Ryugyong Hotel is a 105-story skyscraper under construction in Pyongyang, North Korea. Its name is also one of the historic names for Pyongyang. The building is also known as the 105 Building, a reference to its number of floors...

     in Pyongyang, North Korea, designed as the world's tallest hotel, began construction in 1987. Due to financial difficulties, construction ceased prematurely in 1992. Since then, the structure has remained as a massive concrete hulk, unfit for habitation. Construction resumed in April 2008.
  • Ada programming language
    Ada (programming language)
    Ada is a structured, statically typed, imperative, wide-spectrum, and object-oriented high-level computer programming language, extended from Pascal and other languages...

    , commissioned by the United States Department of Defense
    United States Department of Defense
    The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

     (DoD). It was designed to be a single, standard language, particularly suitable for embedded and real-time systems. The DoD mandated the use of Ada for many software projects in 1987, but removed the requirement in 1997. It is still used in many countries, especially for safety-critical systems such as air traffic control and subways. It came to be known as the "Green Elephant" for the color code used to keep contract selection unbiased. It became irrelevant for commercial applications, barely surviving the wave of free and successful tools such as C++
    C++ is a statically typed, free-form, multi-paradigm, compiled, general-purpose programming language. It is regarded as an intermediate-level language, as it comprises a combination of both high-level and low-level language features. It was developed by Bjarne Stroustrup starting in 1979 at Bell...

     and Java
    Java (programming language)
    Java is a programming language originally developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems and released in 1995 as a core component of Sun Microsystems' Java platform. The language derives much of its syntax from C and C++ but has a simpler object model and fewer low-level facilities...

    .. The introduction of the GNAT
    GNAT is a free-software compiler for the Ada programming language which forms part of the GNU Compiler Collection. It supports all versions of the language, i.e. Ada 2005, Ada 95 and Ada 83; it allows already some constructs of Ada 2012...

     compiler and the Ada 95 and 2005 standards has to some extent mitigated the affordability problem.
  • Several incomplete or badly functioning dams, such as the Bujagali dam
    Bujagali Power Station
    -Location:The power station is located across the Victoria Nile, about north of Jinja immediately north of the former location of Bujagali Falls. This location lies at the border between Buikwe District to the west and Jinja District to the east...

     (Uganda) and Epupa dam (Angola). Most were constructed by foreign companies in the interest of foreign aid. Although the buildings do not meet expectations, if construction is completed or restarted, they could still provide a contribution to the local population.
  • In 1907, author Henry James
    Henry James
    Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

     described the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island
    Newport, Rhode Island
    Newport is a city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States, about south of Providence. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War...

     as being "white elephants" and "witless dreams" because they were summer homes for the wealthy and were unoccupied for most of the year. Thorstein Veblen
    Thorstein Veblen
    Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen was an American economist and sociologist, and a leader of the so-called institutional economics movement...

     invented the term conspicuous consumption
    Conspicuous consumption
    Conspicuous consumption is spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status....

     to describe the mansions.
  • In "Hills Like White Elephants
    Hills Like White Elephants
    "Hills Like White Elephants" is a short story by Ernest Hemingway. It was first published in the 1927 collection Men Without Women.-Plot summary:...

    ", a short story by Ernest Hemingway
    Ernest Hemingway
    Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economic and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the...

    , an unborn child is viewed as a white elephant.
  • Refinería del Pacífico, an oil refinery to be built in Ecuador
    Ecuador , officially the Republic of Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is one of only two countries in South America, along with Chile, that do not have a border...

     (scheduled for 2013), has been described as a white elephant because it will cost more than $12 billion and will need crude oil not extracted as of 2010. It has been suggested that this crude oil will come from the Yasuni National Park
    Yasuni National Park
    Yasuni National Park is in Ecuador with an area of 9,820 km2 between the Napo and Curaray rivers in Napo and Pastaza provinces in Amazonian Ecuador. The park is about 250 km from Quito and was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989...

  • The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway
    Cambridgeshire Guided Busway
    The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway , branded the busway , is a public transport scheme connecting the population centres of Cambridge, Huntingdon and St Ives in the English county of Cambridgeshire...

     (CGB), a £160+ million public transit project in East Anglia
    East Anglia
    East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

    , United Kingdom
    United Kingdom
    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

     whose immense construction costs far exceed even the most optimistic projections of revenue. Because the 50,000 tons of concrete used to build the busway is itself white, the project is particularly often referred to as a white elephant.
  • Brisbane, Australia's Clem Jones Tunnel. The operating company Rivercity motorways posted a 1.67bn loss in 2010, largely due to overly optimistic traffic projections. Despite cutting tolls by up to 50% traffic volumes are less than half of the projected 60,000 vehicles a day.
  • The stadiums built in South Africa
    South Africa
    The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

     for the 2010 FIFA World Cup
    2010 FIFA World Cup
    The 2010 FIFA World Cup was the 19th FIFA World Cup, the world championship for men's national association football teams. It took place in South Africa from 11 June to 11 July 2010...

     have been dubbed "white elephants", citing a massive misappropriation of national funds to provide a spectacle for the sporting event that might have been directed toward the country's staggering poverty.
  • Shanghai Maglev Train
    Shanghai Maglev Train
    The Shanghai Maglev Train or Shanghai Transrapid is a magnetic levitation train, or maglev line that operates in Shanghai, China. It is the first commercially operated high-speed magnetic levitation line in the world...

     or Shanghai Transrapid. The journey was designed to connect Shanghai Pudong International Airport quickly (approximately 7 mins train ride) to the outskirts of central Shanghai where passengers could interchange for their final destinations in the city centre. Due to the proprietary technology the Maglev Trains couldn't be incorporated into the Shanghai Metro and became a "train to nowhere" as its final stop is another 20 mins connection to the city centre via the Shanghai Metro.
  • Digital terrestrial television project
    Digital television in Malaysia
    In Malaysia, digital television broadcasts, or DTV, can be received via cable, internet, satellite, or via free over-the-air digital terrestrial television - much like analog television broadcasts have been...

     by Radio Televisyen Malaysia
    Radio Televisyen Malaysia
    The Department of Broadcasting, Malaysia, DBA Radio Televisyen Malaysia , is a Malaysian state-owned public broadcaster. It owns and operates a number of radio and television stations in Malaysia, based in Kuala Lumpur...

     is described as a "white elephant" because it has been delayed and recently deferred because technology rapidly evolved over time.
  • The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is being increasingly viewed as a "white elephant" by the US military, due to its astounding price tag of some $380 billion dollars US for nearly 2,500 aircraft in three differing versions, to equip nine nations' air forces.

See also

  • Airavata
    Airavata is a mythological white elephant who carries the Hindu god Indra. It is also called 'Ardha-Matanga', meaning "elephant of the clouds"; 'Naga-malla', meaning "the fighting elephant"; and 'Arkasodara', meaning "brother of the sun". 'Abharamu' is the elephant wife of Airavata. Airavata has...

  • Benefit shortfall
    Benefit shortfall
    A benefit shortfall results from the actual benefits of a venture being lower than the projected, or estimated, benefits of that venture. If, for instance, a company is launching a new product or service and projected sales are 40 million dollars per year, whereas actual annual sales turn out to be...

  • Boondoggle (project)
    Boondoggle (project)
    A boondoggle is a project that is considered to waste time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy motivations.- Etymology :...

  • Cost overrun
    Cost overrun
    A cost overrun, also known as a cost increase or budget overrun, is an unexpected cost incurred in excess of a budgeted amount due to an under-estimation of the actual cost during budgeting...

  • Elephant in the room
    Elephant in the room
    "Elephant in the room" is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss....

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