elephant in the room

the elephant in the room
also, the elephant in the living room

Meaning

  • a difficult, controversial, or obvious problem that no one wants to talk about or mention because the subject is problematic, uncomfortable, or awkward
  • an important topic or issue that everyone is acutely aware of, but isn’t discussing due to embarrassment or sensitivity
  • intentionally ignore something obvious

Example Sentences

  1. When Geoff arrived at the meeting yesterday, he had a huge black eye. He gave us no explanation, and nobody dared ask him about it. So we sat there for the whole morning with this elephant in the room.
  2. The star player, who was splashed all over the tabloids last week with another woman, arrived at the TV studio with his wife on his arm. Bet it was like an elephant in the room for the host of the show.
  3. Excessive use of pesticides in agriculture is the health minister’s elephant in the room.
  4. The Prime Minister held a press conference announcing proposals to reform few laws, calmly overlooking the elephant in the room.
  5. We need to address the elephant in the room, though, that being the often cruel treatment of animals at product testing facilities.

Origin

This metaphorical phrase refers to something as conspicuous as an elephant (the largest land mammal) but is overlooked because it is socially uncomfortable.

Ivan Krylov wrote a fable entitled ‘The Inquisitive Man‘ in 1814. He tells the story of a man visiting a museum and noticing all kinds of small and unimportant things but failing to notice a giant elephant. In the novel ‘Demons,’ Dostoevsky wrote:

“just like Krylov’s Inquisitive man, who didn’t see the elephant in the museum.”

This exert was found in The Charleston Gazette in 1952 (US):

“Chicago, that’s an old Indian word meaning get that elephant out of your room.”

Is this the authors’ ironic way of raising the topic of Native Americans?

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