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“Elephant in the room” or “Elephant in the living room”
This idiom is used when we are referring to a big issue, an obvious truth, or an obvious problem that everybody is aware of, but no one wants to discuss for various reasons, for example , because it is embarrassing or it may cause arguments. It is based on the thought that an elephant in a room would be difficult to be unnoticed.

eg: The increase in homeless people is the state’s elephant in the room.

What is the Italian equivalent idiom or expression?

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  • 2
    Recently a politician talked about the “cow in the corridor”, but he's known for his imaginative remarks.
    – egreg
    Jul 24 '16 at 19:50
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    @egreg: I missed it. Was he an English-speaking politician? Or did you translate an Italian expression?
    – DaG
    Jul 24 '16 at 20:37
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    @DaG I'm not sure Bersani can speak English; he talked about “la mucca in corridoio”. it.notizie.yahoo.com/…
    – egreg
    Jul 24 '16 at 21:04
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    I think that the expression "La mucca in corridoio" was invented by Luigi Bersani in 2018
    – asdru
    Oct 8 '20 at 8:24
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As figurative terms, I've seen used convitato di pietra, with reference to Mozart's Don Giovanni. Usually, people treat it as Leporello did, and cower under the table rather than confronting its ominous presence.

An imprecise alternative, which also exists in English, is la scritta sul muro (the writing on the wall), referring to the biblical episode of Balthazar's banquet.

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Often the expression is simply translated literally as "elefante nella stanza", its use is starting to be common so we could say we acquired it.

Other expressions we borrowed that involve the concept of situation that can't be ignored or that's obvious but we pretend it doesn't exist are "l'imperatore è nudo" or "i nuovi vestiti dell'imperatore" (from the "Keiserens Nye Klæder" tale).

Pretending to not see an obvious problem and acting like ignoring it would fix the situation is also rendered with the expression "fare come lo struzzo" or "mettere la testa nella sabbia" (this follows the myth that the ostrich would hide its head in the sand when scared).

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I make a further contribution, since the answers that have appeared so far formulate various different proposals, none of them conclusive. In a recent episode of TV series The Boys (streamed by Prime Video), an interviewer, after having congratulated a character on his wedding, wants to change the subject and tells him:

let's address the elephant in the room.

(which refers here to the interviewed's past misconduct). Here the Italian dubbing and subtitles differ. The first translates the sentence as:

Direi di prendere il toro per le corna.

This is an interesting phrasing. It alludes less to the fact that the topic was avoided, but preserves the idea of bravely tackling something.

The subtitles, on the other hand, tell rather than showing:

Parliamo di ciò che tutti sanno ma di cui nessuno parla.

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I read on Wikipedia that they used a literal translation: "avere un elefante nel salotto ", with the same explanation of its meaning.

I would also suggest an expression "il segreto di Pulcinella". It refers to something obvious that is known to everybody despite of the attempts of hiding it by the people involved.

In this expression there is missing an "embarrassment " factor although in some context it woul be present eg. "La relazione di Mario con Anna è un segreto di pulcinella" which means "the relationship between Mario and Anna is obvious despite their attempts to keep it secret".

At least for me, as not Italian, it can have this factor as well. I would suggest an Italian to confirm (or not) my impressions, as they surely will catch the real meaning.

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    The embarassment might be related to the whatever situation it involves, but the expression "segreto di Pulcinella" just means a supposed secret that isn't secret at all as everybody knows it. Jul 25 '16 at 13:51
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Italian equivalent expressions, according to context are:

presenza ingombrante

problema imbarazzante


  • L'aumento dei senzatetto è un problema sempre più imbarazzante per lo Stato.

also:

pesare come un macigno.

  • l'aumento dei senzatetto pesa come un macigno sul governo.
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    I'd say these phrases lack the sense that everybody knows about the issue, but nobody intends to raise it explicitly.
    – DaG
    Jul 24 '16 at 20:35

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