Rick's List — Gorilla or Elephant in Room Edition

I blame "Jaws" for the idea that sharks are considered THE bad-asses in the zoological world when there are beasts out there as or more dangerous. A Cape Buffalo, for one, and a Black Mamba, for another — and even the Cone Snail (look it up).

There's a lot of hazardous animals. For example, I certainly don't want to walk into my kitchen or den and encounter an elephant or a gorilla — and yet I'm constantly hearing about people describing the "elephant in the room" or the "gorilla in the room."

What's going on with the primate and pachyderm cages in America's zoos that allows these creatures to escape virtually any time they want and gambol into our residences?

I'm just kidding, of course. The elephant/gorilla in the room bromide describes a situation in which people avoid discussing a topic that's clearly at the forefront of the consciousness of everyone involved. I happen to know a lot about this because of my longtime membership on the U.S. Idiomatic Expression Committee.

In fact, I worked on the project that invented the "Elephant in the Room" and "Gorilla in the Room" clichés. A few behind-the-scenes tidbits from those sessions:

1. You frequently hear the "gorilla" allusion predicated by a weight designation. A "600-pound gorilla" is popular, although of late — possibly because humans who encounter animals at nature preserves or zoos all too often feed them high-caloric snacks in defiance of ordering folks to NOT do that — it's an "800-pound gorilla" in the room. So the gorilla is getting fatter.

2. The committee's original gorilla/weight conception was 413 pounds. Most experts suggest an adult gorilla weighs between 300 and 400 pounds, and we added additional 13 pounds to provide a realistic touch. An 800-pound gorilla would be in serious danger of heart disease or diabetes.

3. And why is there also an "elephant"? Well, an elephant is very large, and its trunk and ears are distinctive. You'd notice one in a room. So that was a consideration.

4. The Committee, being federal, fights for funding. In fact, a Labrador Puppy lobby group offered an enormous donation if we'd create a cliche so that people would say, "We're overlooking the Labrador puppy in the room."

5. It was tempting, but frankly it's just not sufficiently unusual to walk into a room and see a Lab puppy, so the context of the cliche would diminish appreciably. As in:

"I think we're all dancing around the Labrador puppy in the room. We have to admit that Mrs. Sudlowsky is really sick."

"Whoa! I know Mrs. Sudlowsky's sick. But ... what Labrador puppy? I want to play with it!"

6. Will the committee ever consider drafting a new cliche like "We're forgetting the Cone Snail in the room"? That's the $64,000 question. 


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