800-pound gorilla

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Attested since at least 1971, from a riddle: "Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep?" / "Anywhere it wants."


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800-pound gorilla (plural 800-pound gorillas)

  1. (idiomatic) An entity that dominates its environment.
    • 2008 February 6, “Who’s the 800-Pound Gorilla?”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      When it comes to the lucrative search market, Google, not Microsoft, is the 800-pound gorilla.
    • 2014 February 26, Eddie Gossage, quotee, “Bernie Ecclestone dismisses Nascar objection to US Grand Prix date clash”, in The Guardian[2]:
      The thing he unfortunately doesn't recognise is there is an 800-pound gorilla when it comes to major American motor sports. The 800-pound gorilla is Nascar.
    • 2016 May 31, James Poniewozik, “Trump, 800-Pound Media Gorilla, Pounds His Chest at Reporters”, in The New York Times[3], →ISSN:
      It was poetically fitting. For almost a year, Mr. Trump has been the 800-pound gorilla whose unpredictable rampages have obsessed the news media. Now he was completing the circle by commenting on the 400-pound gorilla who briefly stole the spotlight from him for one holiday weekend.
    • 2021, Jeroen Janssens, chapter 10, in Data Science at the Command Line, 2nd edition, O'Reilly, →ISBN:
      Apache Spark is a cluster-computing framework. It’s the 800-pound gorilla you turn to when it’s impossible to fit your data in memory.
  2. (idiomatic) Something dangerous, menacing, or frightening that is obvious but not addressed.
    Synonym: elephant in the room
    • 2018 March 13, Jessica Glenza, “Sky-high prices of everything make US healthcare the world's most expensive”, in The Guardian[4]:
      However, a co-author of the new study said those arguments ignore the “800-pound gorilla”: sky-high prices everywhere.

Usage notes[edit]

  • The weight in the metaphor can be varied quantitatively.
  • Occasionally other nouns are substituted, most commonly elephant from another idiom, but also more context-specific nouns, such as rutabaga in an article on gardening.
  • Occasionally adjectives are inserted to modify gorilla to bring the metaphor closer to the context.

Derived terms[edit]