The origin of catch phrases can be bite-size history lessons. I ran across “white elephant” in my reading and wondered how that came to mean something you’d rather not own. Here’s what I learned.
Although a white elephant used to be considered a sacred and tremendously valuable animal in Siam (modern-day Thailand), being given one as a present by the King could be the worst thing to happen to you. Today, the term ‘white elephant’ denotes any burdensome, expensive and useless possession that is much more trouble than it is worth.
If a Thai King became dissatisfied with a subordinate, he would give him a white elephant. The gift would, in most cases, ruin the recipient. Keeping a white elephant was a very expensive undertaking, since the owner had to provide the elephant with special food and provide access for people who wanted to worship it.
Fortunately, although our Crocker Memorial Church is similarly large, white, and at times “an expensive undertaking”, it is by no means a white elephant. Instead, it’s a living example of community reuse, with groups, clubs, theater troupes, brides, and more enjoying it.