English Language Blog

An elephant never forgets Posted by on Sep 18, 2012 in English Language, English Vocabulary

In English we have a saying that goes like this:  an elephant never forgets.  I recently heard someone say this and I started wondering where this saying comes from.  Today I am going to explore with you the origin of this saying and how it is used in English.

The saying ‘an elephant never forgets’, is an expression used to imply that a person has a good memory and is unlikely to forget something.  The expression is usually used in a lighthearted or humorous context.

For example:

I told Sally not to expect the teacher to forget about giving us homework.  She always remembers to give us homework. An elephant never forgets.

Did you remember to bring the book I asked for? Of course, an elephant never forgets.

How did you know this is my favorite dessert from when I was a kid? An elephant never forgets.

So, where does this expression come from, it seems strange to compare a person to an elephant and why do we English speakers think that elephants don’t forget in the first place.  Apparently elephants do have strong abilities to recall people, places, and behavior. Examples of this include elephants recalling humans that trained them when they were young, but who they haven’t seen for more than 20 years. Elephants are also known for remembering the locations of important resources in the wild (like where to find water) over hundreds of miles of terrain, even if they haven’t visited those spots for decades. Lastly, elephants that have been apart for many years seem to recognize each other and greet one another upon meeting again. This has been observed among zoo elephants. It is probably the ability to keep track of information for many decades that generated the phrase: an elephant never forgets.

Now that you know a little more about elephants and why we have this expression in English I thought I would introduce you to a little elephant related vocabulary.  Maybe now after learning about elephants’ amazing memories, you will become more like an elephant and not forget any of this new vocabulary.

Elephant vocabulary:
pachyderm – the scientific name for animals that are mammals who are large, thick-skinned, and hoofed; elephant as well as rhinoceros and hippopotamus belong in this group
trunk – the name of an elephants nose
calf – the name of a baby elephant
a parade (mass noun) – a group of elephants

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.