The use of 'white elephant' for a useless or troublesome possession is from a story that kings of Siam (now Thailand) would give a highly-revered white elephant to anyone they disliked, knowing the animals were considered too sacred to be put to work, and cost a fortune to keep. Albino elephants existed more commonly than in the wild because of inbreeding in Thai, Burmese and Cambodian Royal herds. Being given an elephant was a bit like the bunga mas - an expensive honour. The Order of the White Elephant was created in 1861 by Mongkut (the one in the “King & I”) as a replacement for actual elephants, probably copying the British honours system.
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