noun, plural el·e·phants, (especially collectively) el·e·phant 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.
- white elephant.
- Chiefly British. a size of drawing or writing paper, 23 × 28 inches (58 × 71 cm).
noun plural -phants or -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 British a size of writing paper, 23 by 28 inches
- elephant in the room an obvious truth deliberately ignored by all parties in a situation
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.
see see the elephant; white elephant.