The Fifth Elephant (expression)

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An Überwaldian expression meaning, depending on context,

  • a thing that does not exist, as others would say "Klatchian Mist"
  • a thing that is other than it seems
  • a thing that while unseen, controls events (an éminence grise)

The expression comes from the legend of The Fifth Elephant.


The term éminence grise was coined about François Leclerc du Tremblay, the right hand man of the real power behind the throne of Louis XVI, Cardinal Richelieu.

This is another of those interestingly multi-level puns where one entendre does the work of two or three. On Roundworld, the phrase Scotch Mist can denote many things: a mirage, perhaps, a thing seen that isn't physically there. It can be rumour with little or no grounding in fact; it can be something of which the cynical may grunt "I'll believe 'that' when it happens"; or it may be deliberately spread misinformation.

German has a similar phrase: nacht und nebel, or "night and fog", to denote something obscured or clandestine. E.g. a "Nacht-und-Nebel-Aktion" is an action taken in secret and without warning (regardless of the actual time or weather). In the Nazi era, people taken away at three in the morning for a cosy chat with the Gestapo were said to have disappeared into night and fog. A military weapon was actually called the nebelwerfer, or fog-thrower: it was a multi-barrelled artillery piece designed, among other things, to put up a very dense smokescreen very quickly. And smokescreens brings us to yet another layer of meaning: deliberate deception and misinformation to conceal what is true and divert attention to the false. "It's all done with smoke and mirrors", as the stage magician said...