Facebook is the 10,000 pound canary in the coal mine

Tom Merritt of APR’s Marketplace on NPR Morning Edition, Daily Tech News uttered this one.  One of the criteria for a malaphor is that it is unintentionally said; a mental mishap so to speak.  However, I have made an exception with this one as it is very clever.  It appears Mr. Merritt was saying this intentionally, as he was talking about Facebook policing its advertising, and whether the latest transparency move was significant. They don’t want to talk about it; they’re being forced to talk about it. We don’t have a clear way of knowing whether our privacy is being protected..

It is a mashup of “canary in a coal mine” (early warning of possible adverse conditions or danger), “the 800 pound gorilla” (a person or group so powerful it does not need to heed to the rules) and “the elephant in the room” (a problem that everyone is aware but choose to ignore and not mention).  Elephants, gorillas, and canaries all in one phrase!  A huge thanks to Sally Adler for hearing this one and passing it on!


It’s the 800 pound elephant in the room

Elephants and gorillas don’t mix, yet this malaphor is an exception.  This was heard on the NPR show “to the Best of Our Knowledge”.  Charles Monroe Cain was interviewing former navy pilot and drone developer Missy Cummings from Duke. He asked her about “the 800 pound elephant in the room.”   This is a conflation of “the 800 pound gorilla (dominant force that cannot be ignored) and “the elephant in the room” (a truth that cannot be ignored).  Bottom line is that you can’t ignore a gorilla OR an elephant.  This elephant mix up thing seems pretty common – see prior postings on pink elephants and white elephants.   A trumpeting thank you to eagle eared malaphor hunter Yvonne Stam for sending this one in!

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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.”