Stories We Like: Novels For Language Lovers
1851, "inconvenient thing that can't be got rid of," supposedly from the practice of the King of Siam of presenting one of the sacred albino elephants to a courtier who had fallen from favor; the gift was a great honor, but the cost of proper upkeep of one was ruinously expensive.
An unwanted or financially burdensome possession, or a project that turns out to be of limited value: “The new office building turned out to be a white elephant once the company decided to move its headquarters.”
Something putatively valuable, often a gift, that one does not want; an embarrassing piece of bric-a-brac: a wonderful collection of white elephants, trash, treasures
[1851+; fr the white elephant of Thailand, which, although it is sacred and royal, is also a clumsy sort of possession for one's house]