The elephant in the room
(also elephant in the living room
, elephant in the parlor
, elephant in the corner
, elephant on the dinner table
, elephant in the kitchen
, and horse in the corner
) is an English idiom
for an obvious truth
that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It is based on the idea that an elephant
in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there might be concerning themselves with relatively small and even irrelevant matters, compared to the looming big one.
The term refers to a question, problem, solution, or controversial issue that is obvious, but which is ignored by a group of people, out of embarrassment or taboo. The idiom can imply a value judgment that the issue ought to be discussed openly, or it can simply be an acknowledgment that the issue is there and not going to go away by itself.
The term is often used to describe an issue that involves a social taboo, such as race or religion.
The idiom is commonly used in addiction recovery terminology to describe the reluctance of friends and family of an addicted person to discuss the person's problem, thus aiding the person's denial.
The idiom is also occasionally invoked as a "pink elephant", possibly in reference to alcohol abuse, or for no other reason than that a pink elephant would be more visible than a normal elephant.
The title of Alan Clarke
's 1989 short television film Elephant
was a reference to this phrase. The elephant in the room
in this case was The Troubles
in Northern Ireland
. In an attempt to illustrate the core of the problem, Clarke's film stripped away all dialogue and plot, and was essentially a series of unrelated shootings.
Gus Van Sant's 2003 film Elephant, which is named after the Clarke film, places the idiom in the context of a Columbine-style high school shooting—although this was apparently inadvertent, as Van Sant apparently believed Clarke was referring to the fable of the blind men and an elephant, each perceiving a different object.
In the short animated film Elephants Dream, the two main characters appear to exist in a vast machine. The elephant in the room is that the machine appears to be perceived solely by one character and may not actually exist.
On the TV quiz show QI
, a feature of Series E was the "Elephant in the Room" bonus, in which the answer to one or more questions concerned an elephant.
's 2008 album is titled The Elephant in the Room
Political columnist Ryan Sager entitled his book about the conflict between the Christian right and Libertarians for control of the United States' Republican Party "The Elephant in the Room," a play on both the English idiom and the Republicans' elephant symbol.
Prof. Randy Pausch started his Last Lecture by saying, "My father always said, 'if there is an elephant in the room, introduce it!'"