485: White Elephant

What’s the best/worst White Elephant gift you’ve ever gotten?

Full episode script

It could be an office tradition, a family joke, or a personal challenge you give yourself every year, but most adults in North America have experienced at least one White Elephant gift exchange in their lifetimes. These gift exchanges of items that are generally considered mildly useless but amusing are a staple of the holiday experience for many.

Much like the gifts you will get in a White Elephant gift exchange, the term “White Elephant” itself has the mythical background — and the more realistic history.

The mythical story of the white elephant is that the King of Siam would give his enemies a gift of a white elephant — a creature that was venerated, was not supposed to be put to work, and was to be cared for — which meant essentially financially ruining the recipient of the gift.

This, of course, isn’t anywhere close to true. The researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary point to the Early Sports and Pop Culture History Blog’s “Two and a Half Idioms” post, where the author proposes that, quote:

…the phrase white elephant party took off – and may indeed have originated – as a widely circulated a joke published in Nebraska’s Columbus Journal in 1907:

A shocking thing happened in one of our nearby towns, says exchange. One of the popular society women announced a ‘white elephant party.’ Every guest was to bring something she could not find any use for and yet too good to throw away. The party would have been a great success but for an unlooked for development which broke it up. Nine out of the eleven women invited brought their husbands.

Looking for something to listen to this weekend? May I recommend The Once and Future Nerd?

This audio drama is so good, I managed to make a complete and utter embarrassment of myself when Wil Williams of the Podcast Problems newsletter introduced me to the creator on Twitter, and I could barely get out more than “I freaking love your podcast!!” It’s an adventure story, sure. Kind of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court crossed with D&D style character classes crossed with the self-awareness and humor of Fable crossed with social awareness … and more. It’s exceptionally well-written, very well-produced, and utterly worth a binge listen. It’s one of my favorite audio dramas out there, and my number 1 suggestion when someone asks me what audio dramas they should check out.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.