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Elephant In The Room – English Idiom Meaning, Examples.

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The elephant in the room is one of my favorite idioms. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it makes you sound intelligent. It has everything! Am I obsessed with this idiom? Probably yes! (Am I a geek? What do you think! 😛 ) Anyway… so, in this article, we will discuss the ‘Elephant in the Room’. (No pun intended!)

So, what does the idiom ‘The Elephant in the Room’ mean?

The Elephant in the room is a metaphorical idiom, which means that a controversial, sensitive, or uncomfortable topic is purposely omitted from the discussion. Everybody is thinking about it, but nobody wants to talk about it. It implies the ignorance of a known issue that is not addressed. Another way of saying it is, overlooking a problem or a topic discussion, as it might create uneasiness among people.

Also read: “Back to the Drawing Board

He was the elephant in the room at the dinner table. Are you wondering about the meaning behind this sentence? 

Is it referring to the size of a person? Well, No. 

For example:

At the dinner party, no one wanted to bring up the elephant in the room about Aryan’s stealing act.

Here, the known issue is Aryan stole something, which everyone knows but isn’t willing to talk about.

Hence, the elephant in the room idiom can be expressed as consideration of existing things as non-existing. The further reading will make you go through the elephant in the room meaning, it’s origin and examples.

What Does the Expression ‘Elephant in the Room’ Mean?

If you look at the definition, it will be something like this:

A known truth or fact that is being knowingly ignored or left unacknowledged as it might be embarrassing or uncomfortable to bring into the conversation. 

Let’s break it down in simple words.

Consider an example: 

Topics like Menstruation, Sexual Health & Protection are still taboo or uncomfortable things to talk about, in many households. So, when these families watch TV together, an advertisement for the sanitary pad or a condom becomes the elephant in the room. Everybody becomes uncomfortable. They all watch it but nobody speaks a word of it.

Here’s another example:

“At the start of the new year, the elephant in the room was the fact that Bob was repeating the year third time.”

Everybody knows it. They are all thinking about it silently. But nobody is willing to hit the topic as it would make everybody uncomfortable.

But, why an elephant? Why not any other animal on Earth (or bird or insect or a cartoon or something)? This thought must be dwelling in your headspace. Just like the scenario, where if you have an elephant in your room and you wouldn’t miss noticing it. As it’s a giant animal that would stand out in the crowd. 

Similarly, elephant in the room is a metaphorical idiom, which means something is so big that everyone knows about it but uncomfortable putting it up in the conversation.

Such as:

The car I bought without my father’s permission was the big elephant in the living room for the evening supper. 

Doing something without permission is a big thing, hence talking about the car is described as the elephant in the room.

Origin of the Idiom ‘Elephant in the Room’

Though, the idea of using the phrase ‘elephant in the room’, with an expression related to ignorance, came from Broadway Musical, Jumbo in the 30s. Pointing out the exact origin is uncertain.

While talking about the origin of the phrase where it implies ignoring something intentionally, it somewhere came in the 50s in some newspaper saying, 

“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.”

Then in 1984, the book ‘An elephant in the living room’ by Typpo and Hasting conveyed the current understanding of the phrase. 

Why the Idiom ‘Elephant in the Roomis considered funny?

Apart from expressing it as an uncomfortable thing which is preferred to be left unnoticed. The phrase is used to express jokes such as –

An actual elephant entered the room, and the wife tells her husband “There’s is an elephant in the living room”. He ignores it thinking it’s just going to be an uncomfortable discussion. She says it again and finally, drags him to the living room. “Oh! I thought you were saying it metaphorically!” he said.

Here’s some more comedy:

Bob gets all dressed up on his birthday and goes down to the hallway excitedly to meet his friends. No one says anything to him. Sadly, he sits in the corner. His friends approach him saying “Hey! You are sitting here! We thought you are just an elephant in the room (ignoring him intentionally).

Examples of ‘Elephant in the Room’?

Here are some examples to help you concretize the understanding of ‘The Elephant in the Room’:

  • “At the beginning of our senior year of high school, Alice showed up pregnant. So, we had to spend that whole day with that elephant in the room.”
  • “Almost everything we use in our households – detergent liquids, soaps, packaged foods, even the baby products – all of them contain harmful chemicals. But, to our society, that’s an elephant in the room.”
  • “Look. It doesn’t matter if your prostate exam is the elephant in this room. But, we have to discuss it as it is very important for the right diagnosis.”

Some more examples of ‘The Elephant in the Room’ from television, media & Literature:

Sheldon Cooper : It’s simple really. It occurred to me that knowing and not knowing can be achieved by creating a macroscopic example of quantum superposition. The principle that a physical system exists partially in all of its possible states at once.

Penny : We were all thinking it, really. Kind of the elephant in the room.

– The Big Bang Theory, Season 6, Episode 19

“There’s an elephant in the room, and its name is menopause.”

– Brick Heck, The Middle, season 5, episode 21

“Daemon was the pissy pink elephant in the room with a bad attitude.”

— Jennifer L. Armentrout

“When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him.”

— Randy Pausch

“when there’s an elephant in the room, you can’t pretend it isn’t there and just discuss the ants. “

— Ellen Wittlinger (Blind Faith)

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Jui Shirvalkar-Chandurkar

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