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[el-uh-fuh nt] /ˈɛl ə fənt/
noun, plural elephants (especially collectively) elephant for 1.
either of two large, five-toed pachyderms of the family Elephantidae, characterized by a long, prehensile trunk formed of the nose and upper lip, including Loxodonta africana (African elephant) with enormous flapping ears, two fingerlike projections at the end of the trunk, and ivory tusks, and Elephas maximus (Indian elephant) with smaller ears, one projection at the end of the trunk, and ivory tusks almost exclusively in males: L. africana is threatened; E. maximus is endangered.
a representation of this animal, used in the U.S. since 1874 as the emblem of the Republican Party.
Chiefly British. a size of drawing or writing paper, 23 × 28 inches (58 × 71 cm).
noun (pl) -phants, -phant
either of the two proboscidean mammals of the family Elephantidae. The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the larger species, with large flapping ears and a less humped back than the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus), of S and SE Asia
(mainly Brit) a size of writing paper, 23 by 28 inches
elephant in the room, an obvious truth deliberately ignored by all parties in a situation

See Asian elephant

c.1300, olyfaunt, from Old French oliphant (12c.), from Latin elephantus, from Greek elephas (genitive elephantos) “elephant, ivory,” probably from a non-Indo-European language, likely via Phoenician (cf. Hamitic elu “elephant,” source of the word for it in many Semitic languages, or possibly from Sanskrit ibhah “elephant”).

Re-spelled after 1550 on Latin model. As an emblem of the Republican Party in U.S. politics, 1860. To see the elephant “be acquainted with life, gain knowledge by experience” is an American English colloquialism from 1835.

A symbol of the Republican party, introduced in a series of political cartoons by Thomas Nast during the congressional elections of 1874. (Compare donkey.)

Related Terms

see pink elephants, white elephant

not found in Scripture except indirectly in the original Greek word (elephantinos) translated “of ivory” in Rev. 18:12, and in the Hebrew word (shenhabim, meaning “elephant’s tooth”) rendered “ivory” in 1 Kings 10:22 and 2 Chr. 9:21.


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