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Elephant in the Room

an elephant in a terminal behind metal beams

Elephant in the Room Definition

An obvious problem or a big and present issue that no one wants to talk about.


The idea is of something very large and obvious like an elephant being in the room but for whatever reason the parties present refuse to acknowledge it. Even though it should clearly be a top issue if not the sole center of conversation.

Elephant in the Room Examples

  • Ok so we figured out we can pay for the repairs if we split it three ways. We also figured out when and how we’ll pick it up. But to bring up the elephant in the room.. how are we going to tell your mom we crashed the car?
  • Thanks again for babysitting the place looks nice and picked up and the he’s sound asleep. Just to bring up the elephant in the room though, why is there finger paint handprints all over the house?


The unspoken thing, the elephant in the room, is the war against terrorism, it’s tainting everything.

Joanne Liu

Race in this country is still the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss.

Lenny Kravitz

Elephant in the Room Origin

Spiritual Origin

Byelinsky, like the Inquisitive Man in Krylov’s fable, did not notice the elephant in the museum of curiosities, but concentrated his whole attention on the French Socialist beetles; he did not get beyond them

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Demons, 1872

Dostoevsky is a Russian author, philosopher and journalist of the nineteenth century. Some of his most notable novels include Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

In Fyodor’s novel The Demons is the earliest example of using an elephant in a room (a museum) in a metaphorical way to represent willful ignorance. Similar to our idiom.

The Demon’s quote above references an even earlier novel The Inquisitive Man by Ivan Krylov. Krylov’s story involves a man who visits a museum and is so fascinated by all the small insects and animals that upon leaving is surprised to learn there was an elephant in there he failed to notice.

Literary Origin

Financing schools has become a problem about equal to having an elephant in the living room. It’s so big you just can’t ignore it.

The New York Times, July 20 1959

The earliest use in text of our idiom as we use it today comes from an article in The New York Times from the year 1959.