How Cliches Can Fail You

Metaphorical references can sometimes create confusion among colleagues.

On a conference call recently with one of my private-sector clients, a colleague made a reference to the “800-pound gorilla in the room.”

The very next day, I was talking with a different client about a video script I was writing for their new product, and the client asked me to include a visual reference to the “900-pound gorilla.”

Did they mean the same thing? Not even close. When it came to this metaphorical gorilla, these two people would have disagreed about a lot more than his weight.

So I took an unscientific poll among colleagues and clients, people in various professions. My question: What does “the [really fat] gorilla” mean?

Some responses:

-A large corporation or entity that’s so big everything it does affects everyone around it
-A huge issue that no one wants to acknowledge or address

Now, I’ve also heard “the elephant in the room” and “the 300-pound elephant in the room” used the same way as that last response — a huge issue everyone prefers to ignore.

So… because these concepts can have different meanings, and because smart people seem to have very strong ideas of what they should mean, I’d suggest you avoid using any of the following phrases (unless you’re certain the person you’re speaking with or writing to knows exactly what you mean):

[Really fat] gorilla
[Really fat] gorilla in the room
Elephant in the room
[Really fat] elephant in the room
[Any really fat, large animal in or out of a room]

About the Author

Robbie Hyman is a professional communications and public affairs writer. He has 15 years’ experience writing for nonprofits, small business and multibillion-dollar international organizations and is available as a freelance writer for federal agencies.

Robbie has written thousands of pages of content, including white papers, speeches, published articles, reports, manuals, newsletters, video scripts, advertisements, technical document and other materials. He is also co-founder of, an online course that teaches smart money habits to teenagers.