elephant

\ \ [13] Elephants were named from their tusks. Greek eléphās (probably a borrowing from a non-Indo-European language) meant originally ‘ivory’ (hence chryselephantineof gold and ivory’ [19]). Only later did it come to denote the animal itself, and it passed in this sense into Latin as elephantus. By post-classical times this had become *olifantus, and it is a measure of the unfamiliarity of the beast in northern Europe in the first millenium AD that when Old English acquired the word, as olfend, it was used for the ‘camel’. Old French also had olifant (referring to the ‘elephant’ this time) and passed it on to English as olifaunt. It was not until the 14th century that, under the influence of the classical Latin form, this began to change to elephant. In the 16th and 17th centuries there was a learned revival of the sense ‘ivory’: Alexander Pope, for instance, in his translation of the Odyssey 1725, refers to ‘the handle … with steel and polish’d elephant adorn’d’.
\ \ The notion of the white elephant as ‘something unwanted’ arose apparently from the practice of the kings of Siam presenting courtiers who had incurred their displeasure with real white elephants, the cost of whose proper upkeep was ruinously high.

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

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  • Eléphant — Éléphant Pour les articles homonymes, voir Éléphant (homonymie). Nom vernaculaire ou nom normalisé ambigu : Le terme « Éléphant » s applique, en français, à plusieurs taxons distincts …   Wikipédia en Français

  • éléphant — [ elefɑ̃ ] n. m. • elefant XII e; surtout olifant jusqu au XVe; lat. elephantus 1 ♦ Grand mammifère ongulé (proboscidiens), herbivore vivant par bandes dans les forêts humides et chaudes ou dans la savane, remarquable par sa masse pesante, sa… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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  • Elephant — El e*phant ([e^]l [ e]*fant), n. [OE. elefaunt, olifant, OF. olifant, F. [ e]l[ e]phant, L. elephantus, elephas, antis, fr. Gr. ele fas, ele fantos; of unknown origin; perh. fr. Skr. ibha, with the Semitic article al, el, prefixed, or fr. Semitic …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • elephant — [el′ə fənt] n. pl. elephants or elephant [ME elefaunt < L elephantus < Gr elephas (gen. elephantos), elephant, ivory < ? Berber elu, elephant + Egypt Ȝ bw, elephant, ivory] any of an order (Proboscidea) of huge, thick skinned, almost… …   English World dictionary

  • elephant — This noble animal has given rise to a number of phrases and idioms, such as white elephant and see the elephant (mainly AmE, meaning ‘to gain experience of the world’). More recently, the presence of an elephant in the room signals ‘a big problem …   Modern English usage

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  • éléphant — ÉLÉPHANT. s. m. Le plus grand des quadrupèdes, qui a une trompe, et dont les dents principales, quand elles sont détachées de la gueule de l animal, s appellent Ivoire. Monter un éléphant. Gouverner un éléphant. On se servoit autrefois des… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • elephant — c.1300, olyfaunt, from O.Fr. oliphant (12c.), from L. elephantus, from Gk. elephas (gen. elephantos) elephant, ivory, probably from a non I.E. language, likely via Phoenician (Cf. Hamitic elu elephant, source of the word for it in many Semitic… …   Etymology dictionary

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