I forgot the elephant!

The elephant I forgot

A few days ago after the Bangor Languages Learners’ meet up, I was talking to one of the other members of the group and suddenly exclaimed, “I forgot the elephant!”, and hurried back into the café to retrieve it. As he commented, it’s not a phrase that often comes up in conversation. The elephant in question is a small white one from Morocco that usually lives on my mantelpiece, but which had taken up temporary residence on the table in the café where we met so that people who hadn’t been to the group before could find us. When we left the café I forgot to take the elephant, and only remembered when I went outside.

Many people suggest that you should focus on learning the most frequently-used words of a language first, and only learn the less common ones later, if you really want to. However, I like to learn both frequently-used words and obscure words because you never know when you might need them.

Do you focus exclusively on frequently-used words, or do you like learning obscure and unusual words as well?

Can you imagine a situation in which you would say “I forgot the elephant!” or something similarly unusual?

This entry was posted in English, Language, Language learning, Words and phrases.

7 Responses to I forgot the elephant!

  1. Magnus says:

    I had wondered if you were going to blog about forgetting the elephant.

    I’m still thinking it might be a nice addition to the collection of phrases-in-various-languages pages on Omniglot. You could include the Welsh (dwi wedi anghofio’r eliffant), the French (j’ai oublié l’éléphant) and the Esperanto (mi forgesis la elefanton) for starters.

    NB I checked my Esperanto dictionary and there is indeed a verb “to forget” (forgesi), although I’m fairly sure you could also say “mi malmemoris la elefanton”, using “mal” + “memori” (to remember), since it’s a pretty flexible language (I wonder if you could say “mi malforgesis” to mean “I remembered”?). Also, I double checked my translation with Google Translate and that claimed it was “mi forgesis la elefanto” but I think that’s wrong as there’s no obvious reason why elefanto shouldn’t take the accusative -n, as it’s clearly the direct object.

  2. Magnus says:

    Actually, the Welsh translation would probably be better as “wnes i anghofio’r eliffant”, since it’s “I forgot…” rather than “I have forgotten”.

    As far as I’m aware “j’ai oublié…” is correct in French, at least in the spoken language. In any case, I’ve forgotten the past historic form of oublier!

  3. dreaminjosh says:

    For some reason in French I feel like I’d say “J’ai laissé” instead of “oublié”. “Oublier” works I guess; hits the ear funny though. The simple past would be “J’oubliai”. That looks REALLY weird!

  4. Miacomet says:

    I think dreaminjosh is right. In French, “j’ai laissé” would be for if you forgot the elephant somewhere (i.e. left it somewhere), whereas “j’ai oublié” would be forgetting about the elephant, forgetting that it exists.

  5. David Eger says:

    The first time I went independently on foreign travels, I had with me a T-shirt, which had on it the title and cover illustration of the Dr. Seuss book, ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’. I made a habit, each time I entered another country, of asking people to teach me how to say it in their language.

  6. January First-of-May says:

    Just for the record, the Russian is “Я забыл слона” (ya zabyl slona).
    (Also: funny story.)

  7. January First-of-May says:

    Meanwhile, Google gives me 55 results for the phrase “I forgot the elephant”.
    Most of them are random coincidences of the “I forgot the elephant can do it” sort, and most of the rest actually mean “I forgot about the elephant” (e.g. when someone’s listing the animals they saw in a zoo). But there are indeed a few Google-indexed past cases of someone forgetting an elephant somewhere.
    (And then there’s also the idiomatic meaning of “I forgot the most important point”; a cursory Google search seems to suggest that it’s much more common for the Russian version, but it did come up at least once in English.)

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