Talk:White elephant/Archive 1

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Very amused to see that the Myanmar government abbreviated white elephant to Welephant in their URL. Oaky, kids, all together:

Matches, matches, never touch,
They can hurt you very much.

Bagpuss—Preceding undated comment added 21:08, 21 January 2003‎

Welephant should sue. This is outrageous. Long live the West Midlands Fire Brigade! etc (well, if they stop striking every few days...) --taras—Preceding undated comment added 21:10, 21 January 2003‎


I think it would be great if we could get a picture of a real white elephant in the article.

List of white elephants

Wasn't there at one time a list of white elephants (the metaphor)? Where is it?

Three Georges Dam

I think there are many, especially in China who would disagree with the labelling of the Three Gorges Dam as a 'white elephant'. The dam has not yet been finished so its usefulness is not yet known.

In addition it has become rather fashionable to condemn large civil engineering projects, especially hydroelectric dams. It would seem this is often motivated by cynicism, opposition to development, anti-statism, perhaps misplaced environmentalism and in the case of China anti-communism.

However if we look at similar projects, such as Brazil and Paraguay's Itaipu and the Grand Coulee Dam in the USA we can see they have been very successful. According to many studies, this type of scheme provides electricity significantly cheaper than natural gas, coal or nuclear power.

Metaphor vs. Animal

Where is the proper place for the description of the origins of the metaphor in Thai practice? At the moment it's in the White Elephant (pachyderm) article - I think it fits better here since this is an article about the metaphor, or in both places.


Is Concorde a good definition of a white elephant? Although not the initial success expected, it was in service for 27 years, with an excellent safety & reliability record - only 16 planes in service, and a single crash in that time. a_man_alone (talk) 09:21, 27 April 2009 (UTC)

It is ridiculous to list the Concorde as a White Elephant. It was profitable and a technical marvel. Joanakestlar (talk) 14:10, 23 November 2012 (UTC)

Millennium Dome

The Millennium Dome could be considered a white elephant because it costs over £1 million per month to maintain and is rarely used.wiesel (talk) 02:04, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Three Gorges Dam

I removed the Three Gorges Dam from the list as its effectiveness will not be known until it has been operational for a significant number of years. - Roswell Crash Survivor 09:46, 20 April 2007 (UTC)

Why are they white?

Why are they white? Is it a mutation, like albinism? AxelBoldt 19:25 Mar 24, 2003 (UTC)

Something like that. I don't actually know. Bagpuss

(another possible reason for the king's accumulation of white elephants is the fact that he has reigned for over 58 years That makes no sense to me, unless all the previous king's elephants are slaughtered when he dies. Otherwise each new king would inherit the previous king's elephants, and reign length is irrelevant. I'll rm unless anyone knows better. Markalexander100 03:20, 10 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Sue, a white element in Sri Lanka. A-giau 02:05, 9 Nov 2004 (UTC)

List of white elephants

Shouldn't we have a list of famous white elephants? For example, Hubble Space Telescope during its early development and deployment, in a sense of a valuable possession whose keeping is excessively burdensome. — Dennis Valeev 15:25, Jun 17, 2005 (UTC)

The giants

Excerpted form article: "Since the Giants' John McGraw called the Athletics a "White Elephant," the Athletics have won 9 world series compared to the total of 5 by the Giants. The Athletics have won 4 while in Oakland (the last in 1989 against the Giants). The Giants however have won 0 since 1954 and 0 while in San Francisco."

I'm assuming that the Giants are a sports team of some variety, and not a group of people with overactive pituitary glands, but this could do with an explanation, or at least a relevant wikilink GeeJo (t) (c) 05:40, 17 December 2005 (UTC)

Tacky gifts?

The term is often used to refer to an extremely tacky gift, or one that does not fit the tastes of the recipient. Does anyone have a source for this? Mark1 20:34, 27 December 2005 (UTC)


Why are the metaphor and the animal in the same topic? Mikeblas 02:12, 25 December 2005 (UTC)

List of White Elephants

I fail to see how this list adds to this article. One or two definite examples could be useful in helping people to understand what the phrase means. Direct, verifiable quotes from media claiming projects to be white elephants could be useful in showing how the phrase is used. However, the criteria for inclusion on this list seem fluffy and ill-defined at best. There seems to be a complete lack of NPOV considerations going into this. It reads like a list of projects and achievements that a series of editors sought to belittle and slander.

I suggest that this entire section of the article be removed. Please comment.

--talkie_tim 17:18, 20 February 2006 (UTC)

Oppose. The reader needs meaningful examples, and in any case, the list was primarily generated by looking at "What links here." —Joseph/N328KF (Talk) 19:36, 21 February 2006 (UTC)
All lists should be killed. Since we have them, however, I don't think this one is particularly obnoxious. The rest of the article will never be more than a dictdef, so it's not taking up otherwise valuable space. Markyour words 19:59, 21 February 2006 (UTC)
Hmm, I think I see your points... Perhaps if we changed the section title to List of projects that some consider white elephants. What do you think? --talkie_tim 10:34, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
Now you're getting too wordy. If you need to, add a weasel word paragraph to the top of the section, but don't give it a huge ungainly name. —Joseph/N328KF (Talk) 12:18, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
You're right, that does seem awkward. But I can't help but feel that some items on the list require special mention, and some don't belong there. Doesn't an object have to be a gift to be considered a White Elephant? How about if I write specific paragraphs on a couple of the most important examples (maybe the Waterloo Vase, Millenium Dome and Hughe's H-4 Hercules) to give a small number of undeniable examples, and add a link to List of commercial failures?--talkie_tim 14:05, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
Agree. This list is unjustified, biased, and a matter of opinion. Regarding examples and "What links here", if a reader came here from a page describing one of these examples, they already have an example of usage. Since "white elephant" is a pejorative term, one must be very careful giving examples. If nothing else, these examples are generate a lot of pointless debate on the Talk section which should be on the relevant topic pages. Goodmanj 14:06, 21 August 2006 (UTC)
I think there are certain examples that can be widely agreed upon. Ryugyong Hotel. Some others, I'm not so certain about. —Joseph/N328KF (Talk) 16:15, 21 August 2006 (UTC)
Oppose I can think of no better way to define a term such as "White Elephant" than by the use of those things that have been deemed "white elephants" by our fellow man. As far as the list being used to belittle, isn't the term "white elephant" primarily used to belittle and thus a list of white elephants would contain only items that have been belittled. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Somethingshiny (talkcontribs) 21:52, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Agree. For largely the same reasons as Goodmanj. An informal example such as "last year's gifts, taking up garage space" illustrates the point perfectly well. This isn't an esoteric concept. (I've commented further, below.) Alpha Ralpha Boulevard (talk) 04:16, 6 July 2008 (UTC)

Fraction of normal capacity?!

Quote:"Kansai International Airport. Located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, south of Osaka, Japan and constructed largely as a matter of pride, this airport is operating at though at a fraction of nominal capacity..". Now comes the quote from the airport's wikipedia page: "Since the airport is at its limit on "peak" times". Now how do these correspond? Msoos 09:25, 23 March 2006 (UTC)

Svalbard Seed Vault

One must give an eye roll to the seed vault being listed. It is speculative in a way that is inherently value laden ( unlike the person who added it, I expect it may be needed someday), and points out errors witout noticing other sides. ( for example it points out the need for doomsday survivors to get there, when it is actually a place more likely to have survirors than most, and open the thing, easily acomplished as it could be built in such a way to have a "deadman switch" that must be tended to keep it locked ( ie. if un-tended for say, two weeks, or whatever, it will open for anyone.)

Amen! Can you really call something a white elephant before construction starts? (Or least soon after construction starts.) It takes time for the full impact of a project, for better or for worse, to be realized. Then, we can discuss its white elephant status. --Jrn105 19:34, 15 July 2006 (UTC)

Firstly, construction has already begun, so it is already a white elephant, or at least, a white elephant foetus.
Secondly, Svaldbald definately meets the definition of a white elephant - it is expensive ($3m) and useless (except to Norway as a grant of prestige), for the reasons given (it will be impossible to reach after a global disaster, and if it is reached, it will be impossible to enter).
Perhaps an upcoming white elephant list would be more appropriate? We could also add the peace tower in Manhatten as well.
I think I should clarify my arguments for the sake of the discussion (I'd call #2 my primary arguement):
1. Predictions of "White Elephant-hood" for an underway project can blow up in one's face. I seem to recall reading in a book
somewhere that many in the aviation community thought the Boeing 747 was a sure-fire White Elephant in the making.
25+ years of production has proven otherwise.
2. Compared to the other items on the list, the US$3,000,000 price tag is relatively small and it has a pretty small public profile.
As the name implies, elephants are big and hard to overlook. I guess this would be a "White Gerbil" in comparison (*grin*).
Admittedly, these type of lists are subjective in nature. I do not wish this to devolve into a
flame-war, like I have seen on a few talk pages for list-based articles. Can we just agree to disagree? --Jrn105 18:38, 27 July 2006 (UTC)


Don't see how IA-64 is a white elephant. It was not developed for the sake of prestige or some sort of other "special value". A project that cost a lot and didn't generate much value is not always a white elephant - only if it was developed with prestige as one of the main goals. I'll remove it soon if I hear no objections. --Romanski 14:55, 29 July 2006 (UTC)

White Elephant party game

The following text was added to the article today:

"White Elephant is also the name of a common gift-giving game, which is usually popular around Chirstmas each year. The game typically involves groups of twenty to fifty people, and are commonly organized by social groups or small business get togethers. In the game, each person brings a gift, wrapped, but unmarked to a common area. Then, one-by-one, the players choose a gift that someone else brought. The most recent person who chose a gift has the option of trading the gift with any previous selector's gift. To this effect, the last player has the option of any gift in the event. The game has a few variations, which deal with when the gifts are opened or how many times a gift can be traded."

I've removed it, given that there is already an article about the game. (Not wanting to put off the contributor, I've updated the "other uses" line to include a link to the game.) --Ckatzchatspy 06:51, 2 August 2006 (UTC)


This is the second time that the A380 has been added as an example. The editor who is adding it is an anon whose only edits to date are to add the aircraft. Personally, I feel it is far too soon to make such a statement, especially without any supporting evidence. Any thoughts? --Ckatzchatspy 05:04, 5 September 2006 (UTC)

Well considering the fact that the A380 has costed Airbus THREE CEOS, plenty of Euros, and created a rift between various governments, the A380 is pretty close to becoming a winged white elephant (Especially since the Airbus' own A380 is in fact, white).

Whether we think it's a white elephant or not is irrelevant. (Personally, I think it's too soon to judge, but others are less reluctant.) There are plenty of notable sources who have already given it the designation. [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] Given the numerous citations available, I think we should include it. -Will Beback · · 23:20, 6 January 2007 (UTC)
The problem is that the A380 may be a financial success for the customers, but an albatross around the neck of EADS. As with the Concorde, we will not appreciably know this until production is terminated, whether in five or twenty five years, or at least until it's had some history behind it. —Joseph/N328KF (Talk) 03:11, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Kansai International Airport

I think it's way too early to label Kansai Airport as a "white elephant." The latter term implies a giant, ill-conceived project that will never turn a profit or justify its cost. International airports typically are hugely costly and take years, if not decades, to recoup their cost. Kansai is no different. Also, although I have no hard figures on this, I have traveled to Kansai many times as part of my air travels in business and it has been my experience that this airport always seems to be very busy, with plenty of traffic.

The Kansai International Airport will be soon a sucess.It was a pioneer, not a real white elephant.Agre22 (talk) 00:07, 31 August 2008 (UTC)agre22


Will Beback has made a very good point by highlighting the lack of references for this article. AFAIK, everything on the list of White Elephants is a White Elephant, so references shouldn't be too hard to find. To get the ball rolling I've added a references section and referenced a couple of examples. --Nick Dowling 03:08, 30 December 2006 (UTC)

Many of these items in the list have references within the constituent articles. —Joseph/N328KF (Talk) 04:45, 30 December 2006 (UTC)

Sydney Opera house

This has been added twice in the past two days (I removed it both times). The references I'm finding on line generally suggest that there were questions during construction as to whether the building would be a WE, but that thsoe thoughts went away after the opening. Here's a quote from

"...on 20 October 1973, the Sydney Opera House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II. During the inaugural period 300 journalists arrived from all over the world 'to see if the Sydney Opera House was to be a white elephant or a sacred cow'. The Los Angeles correspondent spoke for many when he wrote: 'This, without question, must be the most innovative, the most daring, the most dramatic and in many ways, the most beautifully constructed home for the lyric and related muses in modern times.'"

I'm thinking that the Opera House doesn't qualify for this list. Thoughts? --Ckatzchatspy 09:11, 8 February 2007 (UTC)

Deletion of opinion

The "famous white elephants" section was pure opinion, and I have deleted it. Nothing is "objectively" a white elephant. The most that can be said about something is that someone has called it a white elephant, but this must be sourced. Calling the space shuttle a white elephant is simply a political opinion. Intelligent Mr Toad (talk) 04:20, 23 December 2007 (UTC)

I've restored the section. As I noted in my comments of almost a year ago (see above) everything on the list needs a reliable source to confirm that it is a white elephant. Some of the items now have references (and hence shouldn't be deleted), and a lot of the rest are pretty uncontroversial examples which are OK, but need to be improved. I agree that the list needs pruning, however, and the number of examples without references remains much too high. --Nick Dowling (talk) 04:26, 23 December 2007 (UTC)

I will delete all examples in which the expression "white elephant" is not directly sourced to a named person. But of course anyone can call anything a white elephant if it suits their views to do so. I could call the entire space program, or the entire Air Force, a "white elephant" - does that mean they should be listed? Intelligent Mr Toad (talk) 04:31, 23 December 2007 (UTC)

You are not a reliable source on this topic (I assume!), but experts in the relevant fields are, and many of the references cite such experts rather than just being hear-say as you are claiming. I've just trimmed the list of examples back to those with references and examples which are obviously white elephants (eg, the Ryugyong Hotel). --Nick Dowling (talk) 04:43, 23 December 2007 (UTC)

Nothing is "obviously" a white elephant, except an albino pachyderm. The statement that something is a "white elephant" is always a statement of opinion. I have cut the list to the five which have provided a source in which the object in question is described as a white elephant or something similar. If I am not a reliable source, neither are you, so your opinion that the Ryugyong Hotel is a white elephant is not sufficient - it must have been named as one by a verifiable source. This is an encyclopaedia not a collection of anecdotes. Intelligent Mr Toad (talk) 05:04, 23 December 2007 (UTC)

I restored the white elephant examples. To say that a source must use the exact phrase "white elephant" seems unnecessarily and arbitrarily restrictive. "White elephant" is a phrase that describes a concept, and sources that describe the concept should be acceptable. In lieu of wholesale deletion, perhaps contributors could add the citations they deem helpful. Wtroopwept (talk) 21:17, 24 December 2007 (UTC)

I think that the mass-restore went too far. Citations are needed and should be easy to find for the obvious examples (eg, the Milenium Dome). --Nick Dowling (talk) 00:17, 25 December 2007 (UTC)

I'm of Intelligent Mr Toad's opinion, that to be in the list something should be costly, more expensive to keep than it's ever likely to be worth, and can't be disposed of. Preferably, there should be a citation. So Hughes H-4 qualifies, but the Great Eastern may not, because it was the springboard for other projects. The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy is certainly not because: a) there's no definite cost to creating it, b) no ongoing maintenance costs, c) nothing to give away or not give away. There are lots of "failed" taxonomies and other theories -- those are an unavoidable part of the scientific process. (I've removed this from the list.)

Agree with removal, but speaking from a professional perspective, it would qualify under benefit shortfall. IIRC they effectively tied up a workstation at Yale for a decade, to produce a massive work that was not adopted anywhere for longer than it took to produce. Dysmorodrepanis (talk) 01:28, 2 March 2009 (UTC)

Wtroopwept seems correct that a quote doesn't specifically need to use the phrase "white elephant", but it would be nice to have a quote to the effect of "We're really sorry we ever started our project", "All the goals have failed, and now we can't stop the thing." etc.

This list really doesn't need to be very long to be clear (a couple well-chosen examples would suffice), and political statements by editors wind up contentious. (It would be interesting to note that white elephant is a commonly used political barb, where the target does not necessarily meet the criteria the article has established. It's a way of criticizing the worth of an opponent's track record.)

One concern is that most items on this list require special knowledge. E.g., I already knew enough about several of them to agree (or disagree) that they are white elephants. But the others, for example, airports I've never been to, mean little. I'm struggling to produce an example that most readers will identify with...something like "holiday gifts from years ago that no one wants, taking up space in the garage"? "Obsolete computers"?

In sum, adding examples that might be viewed by some readers as counterexamples is more confusing than helpful.

Alpha Ralpha Boulevard (talk) 03:56, 6 July 2008 (UTC)

Lynx Transit

A user is repeatedly adding text listing LYNX Rapid Transit Services and the Athletic of Philadelphia as examples of white elephants. I have tried to verify this, but there is no indication of substantial use of the term in regards to the transit system. The blog the editor has provided for Lynx only vaguely associates the term with the transit system, while failing the standards for reliable sources. Extensive Google searches (both News and Web) fail to substantiate the contention that the Lynx Transit system is commonly referred to as a "white elephant". (In fact, the main article doesn't use that term, and indicates that ridership is above projected levels.) As for the baseball team, that article also makes no mention of the use of the term. Given that this article is not a listing of every use of the term, but instead the truly notable ones, I think there is no need to include entries that are at best marginal. Thoughts? --Ckatzchatspy 22:49, 24 February 2008 (U

The references to Lynx should provide you with the basic evidence one needs to determine that Lynx does indeed meet the definition of a White Elephant. As the term has yet to defined in a manner that meets with our policy of verifiability, I can refer you to Webster's for a defition. Lynx is commonly referred to as "the train" or "the light rail" and is usually only called "white elephant" by media outlets and others when discussing the economics and inefficiencies of the system.
Exceeding projected ridership does not preclude Lynx from meeting the definition of white elephant since the system does not have the physical capacity to hold enough riders to break even.
Wikipedia was created to educate and enlighten and this goal is not being met when we limit a list of "alleged" white elephants to the few that can be found by entering "white elephant" into Google. I will provide a good definition for "White Elephant" sometime in the future - until then I will refrain from placing Lynx back into the list. Somethingshiny (talk) 20:52, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
Definition or not, any assessment of Lynx (or any other project) as a "white elephant must come from outside. We cannot be the ones making the call, whether it be from personal opinion or analysis of physical capability. That is where the problem lies, and until there is verifiable proof that the system has been assessed as a WE by reliable sources, it does not meet the standard for inclusion. --Ckatzchatspy 22:07, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Panama canal

Wasn't the panama canal a wite elephant too before the US continued the french undertaking ? Would like to include in article, yet no sources. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:32, 4 December 2008 (UTC)

I don't think so. The Panama Canal as a whole is a success despite the French failure to build it before the US's involvement. Azn Clayjar (talk) 16:30, 16 December 2008 (UTC)

Military White Elephants?

--Arima (talk) 22:37, 24 December 2009 (UTC)


Please add XRL too. I can't think of any refs except that it appeared on TV so can someone cite it? Kayau Voting IS evil 14:53, 27 February 2010 (UTC)

Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Terminal D

I'm deleting this reference because their is not one single claim I can find to list this as a white elephant. Disgruntled international traveler? Deepintexas (talk) 21:54, 8 June 2010 (UTC)

I just deleted the reference as well since it must have been put back in. There is nothing about it that makes it a white elephant. There is no citation. Azn Clayjar (talk) 15:25, 24 November 2010 (UTC)

Metaphor as euphemism

"White Elephant" has been a metaphor used to talk about unwanted babies and abortions when it was illegal, isn't it? There is a famous short story by Hemingway that can't be understood unless you know that reference. Harold Bloom also asserts that "white elephant" has been widely used as a metaphor "for erotic relation too spiritually costly when a man is inadequate" ("How to Read and Why", 2000, p.47). Is it relevant? Kakk (talk) 19:27, 17 October 2011 (UTC)

That's a little tricky. First, I'm not sure Bloom is really saying the term has been "widely used" as a metaphor for relationships.[10] However, even one significant usage may be worth including. Second, we'd have to create a new section for it, which may also be worthwhile, perhaps "other uses". We could say something like, Harold Blooms says that Ernest Hemingway, in his short story "Hills like White Elephants", used white elephants as a metaphor for "unwanted babies" and "erotic relationships" which grow "too spiritually costly". How does that sound?   Will Beback  talk  20:58, 17 October 2011 (UTC)

Pink elephant?

the article states there are pink elephants. I have never seen one, nor has Google images. That phrase must have been edited by a joker. Please add a link to a real newspaper article about pink phants, or remove it forever! (talk) 06:42, 4 January 2013 (UTC)

It's true, and I've added a reference. --McGeddon (talk) 17:03, 7 January 2013 (UTC)

Examples and references

I added two new examples, The Stadio delle Alpi and the The Temple of Olympian Zeus. People deleted my examples because they lack of references so I found some and added them. However I do not think we need to have references for every single example of the list as long as there is a wikipedia article that describes a story behind a white elephant example. In other words I do not think we need to find a reference that for instance someone, sometime referred The Temple of Olympian Zeus as a White Elephant when a 600 year delay in project construction obviously indicates that it is a such kind by definition (perhaps the biggest example in human history).Clicklander (talk) 11:06, 3 January 2013 (UTC)

Wikipedia requires that we reference material, no matter how "obvious" it may appear. That's just the nature of the project. --Ckatzchatspy 06:12, 4 January 2013 (UTC)
So why don't you then remove other examples not containing citations? Like the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest for instance. Because it is an obvious white Elephant! Instead of deleting my editing, you should rather put your effort in finding better references If that is what you want. There is no better example of a white Elephant than the Stadio delle Alpi in the recent history. You can find a lot of criticism about that around! Please stop deleting and let others comment on that before it is decided what to leave and what to remove.Clicklander (talk) 08:20, 4 January 2013 (UTC)
If you read through the talk page, you'll see similar discussions in the past wherein the conclusion was to remove material without proper references. Feel free to discuss, but please stop restoring unreferenced material. --Ckatzchatspy 09:16, 4 January 2013 (UTC)

Could you explain what was wrong with the reference I provided?Clicklander (talk) 09:22, 4 January 2013 (UTC)

Being an anonymous blog with no apparent editorial control or expert oversight, the "Budget Airlines Guide to Football" you cite does not meet Wikipedia's requirements for a reliable source. --McGeddon (talk) 16:46, 7 January 2013 (UTC)
There are some very notable examples of White Elephants, very well known across the world and should not be absent from the list no matter if they include sufficient references or not. Stadio delle Alpi is very famous for never reached the expectations. It was a 70.000 capacity track and field stadium which almost never been used for athletics. As for football games the average attendance was around half of its capacity. It would have never been demolished and replaced that soon if it wasn't such a notable white elephant. Another such an example is the palace of Ceausescu. Of course it is not 100% useless since the parliament and other state Romanian institutions are housed inside, but there are still hundreds of empty rooms and its definitely much more in size and luxury than what the Romanian government needs or ever needed. By deleting such a kind of examples because of the bad reference you do not help the community to improve the article. You should rather put a note for missing reference than completely remove them.Clicklander (talk) 10:26, 8 January 2013 (UTC)
"Well-known" or not, Wikipedia's standards require us to be able to verify such claims. This is true for all articles. --Ckatzchatspy 06:30, 9 January 2013 (UTC)
If the editor adding a statement is aware of Wikipedia sourcing policy but is unable to find a strong enough source, and if other interested editors can't find one either, that suggests we shouldn't be adding it to the article at all at this point in time. "citation needed" tags are more for flagging that a statement was added an editor who didn't know or think to source it. --McGeddon (talk) 15:40, 9 January 2013 (UTC)