The 800 pound gorilla in the room

This one comes from the Chicago Tribune, on a story about malaphors.  Here is an excerpt:

“One particular idiom blend pops up with such regularity that it appears poised to replace the phrase from which it sprung.

In a recent New York Times story about the economic state of Youngstown, Ohio, a community development director called the city’s large swath of vacant properties the “800-pound gorilla in the room.”

An 800-pound gorilla usually refers to someone or something so large and powerful that it lives by its own set of rules. Its origins can be found in a riddle:

Question: “Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep?”

Answer: “Anywhere it wants to.”

It’s also used to describe a dominant player. Urban Dictionary defines it thusly: “An overbearing entity in a specific industry or sphere of activity. A seemingly unbeatable presence always to be reckoned with; whose experience, influence and skill threatens to defeat competitors with little effort.”

Sometimes the gorilla surpasses a mere 800 pounds. (“Whose the 900-pound gorilla now?” asked a headline on a recent tech story about Facebook overtaking Google as the biggest web site in 2010. Sometimes the gorilla sheds a few hundred pounds. ( Colorado’s governor-elect was quoted last month calling the state’s billion-dollar shortfall “the 600-pound gorilla.”)

And sometimes the gorilla is an elephant.

“The elephant in the room” refers to an obvious truth that no one is addressing. A health educator in California’s Central Valley was quoted earlier this week saying, “If there’s an elephant in the room with the obesity epidemic, it’s soda consumption.”

Sometimes the elephant in the room is pink, further underscoring how difficult it would be to overlook the metaphorical pachyderm.

So when idiom meets idiom and the proverbial room is filled with a proverbial gorilla, are we ignoring an obvious overbearing, unbeatable force? Or simply replacing the elephant with another giant animal for variety sake?

Regardless, the saying’s meaning remains more or less intact. And a little blending keeps our age-old idioms from getting stale.”


One Comment on “The 800 pound gorilla in the room”

  1. Peter says:

    I think the Tribune misreads “pink elephant,” it’s actually mixing in yet another metaphor:

    It always reminds me of the scene from Dumbo, or the label on Delirium Tremens beer.

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