This idiom is commonly used when referring to someone who has an excellent memory.
Example: A friend asked me how I was able to remember his shoe size after I bought him a pair that fit perfectly. ‘An elephant never forgets,’ I told him.
The Origin of ‘An Elephant Never Forgets’
As the saying goes, an elephant never forgets. But is that really true? It’s doubtful that elephants have perfect memories. If taken literally, this phrase sounds more like an exaggeration than it does accurate. But even so, it should be mentioned that while these animals may not be capable of remembering everything perfectly, they do indeed have very good memories.
For example, there are reports of elephants being able to remember people or other animals they’ve been with before, even well after a decade of separation. Not too shabby, if you ask me.
Anyway, where does this phrase come from? Well, it may stem from the reputation elephants have for being intelligent animals. However, there is a more plausible explanation as to where it comes from, so let’s talk about it:
From what I’ve heard, there’s apparently an older expression that goes ‘a camel never forgets an injury.’ While this specific saying is not common today (at least, not in the USA), it is possible that the phrase ‘an elephant never forgets’ derives from it. After all, the wording is noticeably similar between these two expressions, so this is most likely the case.
The phrase itself does not appear to be that old. The earliest I could find it in print is from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser newspaper, February 1883:
“And depend upon it such ill-used men like the Delhi elephant, never forget the sting, and seize the first available opportunity for bespattering the reporters with mud.”
Below is an example of how this expression might be used in a conversation:
“Hey Bill, thanks for paying back the money you owed me. I was starting to think you had forgotten.”
“Of course I remembered, an elephant does not forget, after all.”
See Also: Elephant In The Room
Here is another elephant related saying. Why is this animal in a room? If you want to learn more about this expression, well, now’s your chance.