May I clear something up? There seems to be a lot of confusion about how and when to use various metaphorical references to our big, wrinkly gray (or pink) friend, the elephant. We know about the “elephant in the room,” “pink elephants” and “white elephant sales,” but, more often than not, these phrases get all tangled up and used wrong. (Sorry…“wrongly.”)
Who cares, right? Aren’t there are enough real problems in the world that need our attention? Fretting over semantics feels, somehow, inappropriate, and I’m tempted to just let it go. However, recently, when I heard someone refer to “the 300-pound pink elephant in the room,” I thought, “Okay, that does it. Somebody needs to straighten this mess out.” Looking at today’s headlines, I can’t fix (pick any topic), but I can fix “The Elephant Problem.” Please write these down if you need to and keep them with you at all times.
“The elephant in the room” refers to a situation that is obvious to everybody, but no one will address it, because it would be awkward. “We’ve been here all day trying to figure out how to cut costs, but the elephant in the room that no one will acknowledge is the company jet that flies the CEO’s girlfriend over from Paris every weekend.”
“Pink elephants” are drunken hallucinations. “Did you see our CEO at the punch bowl every five minutes at the Christmas party? I’ll bet he was seeing pink elephants.”
An “800-pound gorilla” is from an old riddle. Q: Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep? A: Anywhere it wants. (I didn’t say it was a funny riddle.) Variations: 300 pounds, 500 pounds, What does it eat?, Where does it sit?, etc. “Our CEO gets away with his behavior, because he’s the 800-pound gorilla.”
There is also a “White Elephant Sale” (usually a fund-raising sale of used, damaged or unwanted items) and a “White Elephant Gift Exchange” (oddball items and gag gifts).
I know what you’re thinking: “Dude, I already know all of this.” Maybe you do, but, apparently, a lot of people don’t. I hear perfectly reasonable, intelligent people say things like, “Let’s talk about the pink gorilla in the room.” Oy!
Okay, so that should fix it once and for all, right? No more references, please, to “the pink elephant in the room” or “the 400 pound elephant” or “the white elephant on the table.” (“…on the table?” What? I’ve actually heard that one.) Am I an irrational person with a misguided sense of priorities? Yes, I am. But as the great Luther Heggs once said, “When you work with words, words are your work.”
Wait…what? You don’t know who Luther Heggs is? (sigh) Okay, we’ll talk about that one some other time. I gotta calm down first.