What does “elephant in the room” mean? It is to ignore an obvious problem, or it’s failure to address an issue that stands out in a major way.
Example: As Jim was biking to work, a car drove through a puddle and splashed water all over him. He was soaked! Despite this, he continued on to work because he didn’t want to be late.
Shortly after arriving, Jim walked into a business meeting. While his clothes were still dripping wet, he sat down on an empty chair and acted as if nothing was wrong. So his boss turned to him and asked, “Jim, would you like to address the elephant in the room and tell us why you’re soaking wet?”
The Origin of ‘Elephant In the Room’
The Idea Behind “An Elephant In the Room”
If an elephant were in your room, you would notice it. How could you not? It’d stick out like a sore thumb. After all, these mammals are the largest land animals on earth. They can grow up to 14 feet (4 m) tall and weigh up to 15,000 lb (7,000 kg). So an elephant in any type of room is not something that can be ignored.
Thus, this metaphor is sometimes applied to situations where a person or a group of people are aware of a problem, but they choose to not acknowledge it. It’s as if there is a giant elephant in the room and they are intentionally ignoring it.
So then, where did this idiom come from? Unfortunately, its exact origin is unclear. However, it looks like this phrase is not that old. Its earliest known appearance in print is the mid 20th century.
According to Wikipedia, the Oxford English Dictionary credits the New York Times newspaper from June 20th, 1959, as the first recorded use of this phrase as a simile. I tried to find a copy of this newspaper so I could see the quote for myself, but I was unable to find it. Anyways, apparently there is a line from it that reads:
“Financing schools has become a problem about equal to having an elephant in the living room. It’s so big you just can’t ignore it.”
- My brother sat down for dinner with a black eye. He didn’t want to tell us what happened, so there was an elephant in the room for the duration of dinner.
- Everyone at work thought that Dave was responsible for the mess in the bathroom. However, he addressed the elephant in the room by explaining to everyone that he had nothing to do with it.
Note: If you liked reading about this expression, well, there’s hundreds of more phrases on here. To find them, use the menu at the top.
Or hey, if you want to see another elephant related phrase, have you heard about the one that goes an elephant never forgets? Head on over there and learn about its meaning and origin, if you haven’t already.