Where does the saying "landed with a white elephant" come from and why. All is revealed here.
When I was in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur to be exact, I went to an elephant reserve where we got to ride, feed and swim with them and from my guide I also learned the true origin of the white elephant, and why it is considered a double edged gift.
Years ago white elephants were considered the ultimate prize and status symbol of power and fortune due to their extreme rareness, and all the Royal households in the far east had small collections of them.
However, because of their extreme rareness, their more select diet and grooming requirements, the Asian royalty also saw them as a way of politely causing financial discomfort to any courtiers they disliked or had under perfomed.
The giving of such an elephant was considered a very generous and favourable act, but in reality for the poor unfortunate who was now lumbered with the expensively demanding beast it was just the start of his financial misfortune.
In a way it is like the modern day equivalent of giving a very classic car or introducing an extremely attractive WAG to one of your friends, at first it seems you are doing them a great favour and service, but all too soon the high maintenance of them quickly overshadows any benefit of having such a prize and they become nothing but a huge financial drain.
The real punishment though was that it was the height of rudeness and ill manners to refuse or give away such a gift and even the burial of said elephant was a lavish affair that could not be scrimpt or done cheaply without causing considerable offence, dishonour and loss of social status.
Thus the saying comes down the generations that if you are landed with an unwanted white elephant in your lap you will have a hard time keeping it and an even harder time getting rid of it.