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the elephant in the room


Click below to listen to the phrase.

Choose the correct definition a, b or c.

a) what everyone talks about

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b) a very awkward situation

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c) what we are not talking about

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The elephant in the room refers to a question no-one wants to ask, an obvious problem or risk no-one wants to discuss, or a condition of groupthink no-one wants to challenge.

French translation

un sujet tabou, un non-dit évident, la question que personne n’ose poser, le sujet qui fâche

How NOT to translate

* l’éléphant dans la pièce

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Examples in context

‘Uber calls loss of its London licence the ’elephant in the room’ as it appeals landmark ruling that said its drivers must be given basic workers’ rights

Uber described the loss of its licence in London as an ’elephant in the room’ today as it launched an appeal against a ruling on its drivers’ employment rights.

Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won a landmark case against the cab hiring app last year after arguing they were employees and entitled to sick pay, the minimum wage and paid holiday.

But Uber challenged the ruling, saying it could deprive drivers of the ’personal flexibility they value’.

Mail Online, 27 Sept. 2017

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‘Tuition fees the `pink dancing elephant in the room´, Lib Dems told

The Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman has urged the party to completely re-imagine tuition fees and find a way to help older students return to their studies.

The party has been dogged by the tuition fees issue ever since it U-turned on a pledge not to raise them as part of the coalition government.

Layla Moran told the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth tuition fees were the “pink dancing elephant in the room”.’

Mail Online, 16 Sept. 2017

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Everyday usage

As one participant articulated, ’There is an elephant in the room, and it is recurring costs’.

Poverty in the world is the famous elephant in the room that everybody avoids talking about.

In September 2006, the British artist Banksy set the phrase in visual form with an exhibit of a painted elephant in a room in the Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles. The theme of the exhibition was global poverty. By painting the elephant in the same bold pattern as the room’s wallpaper, Banksy emphasized the phrase’s meaning, by both making the elephant even more obvious and by giving those who chose to ignore it (like the woman in the tableau) an opportunity to pretend that it had blended into the wallpaper background.

Banksy, September 2006


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