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Thread: Seen the elephant

  1. #1

    Default Seen the elephant

    Where does the phrase "seen the elephant" come from?

    Why is it relevant to battle experience?

  2. #2
    amrtaka Member machinor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    I imagine that implies "is such a badass veteran that he is not even impressed by elephants anymore".
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Just remember how Sam lived up during the last half of Return of the King.



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    EBII Mapper and Animator Member -Praetor-'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Alexander's soliders that came all the way up to india. They were so experienced and came so far that they saw elephants.

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    Like the Parthian Boot Member Elmetiacos's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Presumably a leader who has seen elephants before is better equipped to deal with them and gets a bonus or doesn't get a penalty when fighting against them.
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  6. #6

    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    i thought it was a variation of "seen it all"-> he can't be impressed easily

    elephants were probably the most exotic thing in warfare most could imagine and would also damage the troop moral BEFORE the battle a commander who's not impressed by elephants most likely is not impressed by anything but aliens with laser rifles :D and if the troops see how untuched their leader is they get a moral boost aswell.
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    Guitar God Member Mediolanicus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Isn't the phrase from the American Civil War?

    "He has seen the elephant" = "he has been in battle"
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Quote Originally Posted by Mediolanicus View Post
    Isn't the phrase from the American Civil War?

    "He has seen the elephant" = "he has been in battle"

    It was popularized from a little bit before that (say, early 1800s), and derives from seeing elephants in travelling circuses, when it just meant "seeing something exotic." You are right, though, that it took on the more common usage of "been in battle" (or, more generally, "a loss of innocence") in the American Civil War.

    I wouldn't be surprised if it's even older than that though, at least in some form.

  9. #9
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    The way I understood it, the gist is basically "has now seen everything there is to it and won't be much amazed by too much anymore". Eg. the elephant, the most exotic and impressive critter in the circus.
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    EBII Mapper and Animator Member -Praetor-'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Since it appears that no one saw my post, here's a longer version:

    Quote Originally Posted by google
    Diaries and letters of Civil War soldiers are sometimes puzzling. The variety of phonetic spellings and archaic expressions present small mysteries within the larger story of the war and deciphering these can be either gratifying or frustrating. One phrase familiar in enlisted men's writings is, "I've seen the elephant," or, "I'm off to see the elephant." Used to describe the experiences of war and soldiering, the term has many possible origins.

    In the generation before the Fort Sumter crisis, Mexican War volunteers and gold-hungry "Forty-Niners" referred to their Western trials and adventures in precisely the same fashion. Newspapers and periodicals of the 1840s sometimes carried cartoons depicting an elephant pursued by miners, or of Death in his howdah, trampling American dragoons and infantrymen. It is likely, however, that the expression dates from well before this time. In the 3rd Century B.C., Alexander the Great's Macedonian warriors defeated the elephant- mounted army of King Porus in the Indus valley. Surely these men brought memories of the strange beasts back to their hearthsides to thrill and excite their families. Considering the remarkable distance traveled by this army and its exotic exploits, it may be that "seeing the elephant" became synonymous with journeys and experiences in strange and far-off places.

    More than a 1,000 years after Alexander, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne heard stories of an enormous animal that could uproot living trees. After African traders assured the emperor that elephants could clear paths throughout the heavily forested empire, he became obsessed with the idea of acquiring one. Through the efforts of an exiled Arab lord and a merchant named Isaac, an elephant was obtained in Baghdad and laboriously brought by land and sea to the emperor's seat at Aix. The animal, named Abul Abbas, created a tremendous stir in the Frankish world. Word of the monster that had pulled down its own stone stable and yet would gently eat from its royal master's hand spread throughout the empire. When the beast was paraded during festivals and celebrations, peasants, who had seldom if ever left their homes before, traveled miles to "see the elephant."

    An American and more ironic derivation dates from the 1820s and the first days of the traveling circuses. A New England tale tells of the farmer who had heard much of the unique appearance of the elephant, but had never seen one. He was told by a neighbor that the circus was expected in a nearby community and he swore he would attend. Setting out early on the following morning in his wagon, the farmer hoped to make the first performance. Upon reaching a crossroad several miles from home, where vision was obscured by a tall hedgerow, the farmer urged his horse into the intersection. At that same moment the circus train, led by the elephant, reached the crossroad from a different direction. The resulting collision smashed the wagon to splinters, killed the horse, and knocked the farmer unconscious. The circus train passed on as though nothing had happened. Awakening after several hours, the farmer surveyed the destruction and stated dryly, "Well, at least I've seen the elephant."

  11. #11

    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Quote Originally Posted by k_raso View Post
    Since it appears that no one saw my post, here's a longer version:
    As K Raso so helpfully put it, I have always heard the phrase used to refer to someone who has seen it all, done it all, and done it all right back at other people. When my generals get this trait, I have them clean up and go home. They're tired, and they want to go live on their country estates.

  12. #12
    Member Member Chris1959's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    K Raso's post sums it up nicely and the saying is almost certainly an American saying that originated in the eary 19th century and became attatched to the first battle experiance of Civil War soldoers.

    It probably has nothing to do with the exploits of ancient warriors as they would have been long forgotten.

    Also it is not a phrase noted in England until it migrates from the USA, which seems to make it uniquely American as English soldiers would have encountered Elephants a good century earlier in India, Clive of India, Battle of Plassey etc.
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    Like the Parthian Boot Member Elmetiacos's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Hmm, I've never, ever heard that expression used before. You learn something new every day.
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  14. #14

    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris1959 View Post
    Also it is not a phrase noted in England until it migrates from the USA, which seems to make it uniquely American as English soldiers would have encountered Elephants a good century earlier in India, Clive of India, Battle of Plassey etc.
    I seem to remember hearing somewhere about a British phrase "see the lions." Can anyone from the UK confirm that this phrase exists? If so, I wonder if they are related...

  15. #15
    Member Member Chris1959's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    "See the lions" is not a phrase I have heard or read in the UK, it could be regional, I'm from the NW of England or it could be a phrase that has fallen out of popular usage.
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    Near East TW Mod Leader Member Cute Wolf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    I once had a kH generals who defend athenai many times from Macedonian attacks, never travel more than Athenai-Korinthos-Sparta-Athenai, and spend nearly all his time to sit down in the governor's chair on Athenai... never fight against elephant-contaminated army...... and

    . I

    . Laugh

    . With

    . Disbelief

    . when

    . see

    He have trait... seen the elephants....

    I hope thet weird and illogical trait was changed in EB II, at least in its name, better to be renamed :
    Chempion veterans, Extremely Grizzled, has nine lives, or anything.... that doesn't implicitly said that "He has fight the elephants". Seen the elephant traits on itself maybe better to be triggred with 5 battle or more that he must fight against an elephant-contaminated army, or it becomes an illogical traits....

    nb: better gives the battle weary ones in logical sense...

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    Guitar God Member Mediolanicus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    It is an expression. Nothing weird or illogical about it...

    Expressions are not meant to be taken literally...
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  18. #18
    Legatvs Member SwissBarbar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    who wrote that expression? maybe he could explain what he meant
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  19. #19

    Default Re: Seen the elephant

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris1959 View Post
    "See the lions" is not a phrase I have heard or read in the UK, it could be regional, I'm from the NW of England or it could be a phrase that has fallen out of popular usage.
    Thanks for the response Chris. I asked my friend, who is a bit of an etymology hobbyist, and he didn't know anything about it either. I did a cursory google search and came up with this:

    Quote Originally Posted by wordorigins.org
    I have seen the elephant is a expression denoting world-weary experience. It is an Americanism dating to the early 19th century. The elephant is metaphorical, standing it for the exotic and strange things one sees when one has experience and has seen the world.

    Many associate the phrase with the Civil War. While it was certainly in use during the war and undoubtedly crops up in letters and diaries from that period, the phrase is older. From Augustus B. Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes, in a passage written in 1835:

    That’s sufficient, as Tom Haynes said when he saw the elephant.

    And there is G.W. Kendall’s Narrative of the Texan Santa Fé Expedition from 1844:

    There is a cant expression, “I’ve seen the elephant” in very common use in Texas.

    This is an American version of the older British expression to see the lions. The British phrase, meaning the same thing or, in later use, meaning to see something of celebrity or note, is a reference to lions that were kept in the Tower of London and were an early tourist attraction. Those who came to London from the country were often taken to see the lions in the Tower. From Robert Greene’s 1590 Greenes Neuer Too Late:

    Francesco was no other but a meere nouice, and that so newly, that to vse the olde prouerbe, he had scarce seene the Lions.

    (Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition; Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
    wordorigins.com link

    However, that was the only reference to "see the lions" I could find on the web in a quick search. It sounds like you're right, and that it feel out of usage.

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