In terms of weight, the average adult male gorilla checks in somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds — though a particularly lithe adult male gorilla might be in the neighborhood of 270 pounds, and an adult female might be as dainty as 160 pounds. Before you check the URL, yes, this is Certification Magazine and not National Geographic magazine.
We’ve always been a little curious about that, since most of the team here at the office remembers back far enough to grok the expression “500-pound gorilla” as a metaphor for someone or something so unnaturally large and powerful as to have more or less complete freedom to make his/her/their/its own rules. Who’s going to tell it any differently, right?
If you don’t grok the word “grok,” incidentally, then there’s a strong possibility that you were born after the window in time when American youth culture borrowed it straight from the pages of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. It was big for a while. There’s a dictionary entry and everything. The point is that language is fluid and changes over time.
To get back to our original discussion of gorillas, the expression “500-pound gorilla” has proven particularly durable, hanging around in the vernacular of American English since at least the 1950s. Its origin is generally thought to lie in the even older joke, “Where does a 500-pound gorilla sleep? Anywhere it wants.” You see, the gorilla is so unnaturally large and powerful, etc.
Just as the word “grok” is no longer as widely grokked as it once was, however — likely owing to the greatly diminished pop cultural footprint of Stranger in a Strange Land — the proverbial 500-pound gorilla has put on some weight. Indeed, some of you have probably been reading this article and either mentally punching us in the mouth or at least scratching your head because we haven’t been using the more contemporary formulation “800-pound gorilla.”
There’s a range of documentation that supports the shift, including a Wikipedia page and even another of those pesky dictionary entries. Because you go “ ’twas ever thus”-ing us and celebrating your presumed correctness, on the other hand, we have ironclad, irrefutable evidence that the gorilla did not always weight 800 pounds. Click here.
Mike drop. Just accept it. You can’t argue with God or Gary Larson.
At any rate, even the 800-pound gorilla has begun to be usurped by a 900-pound gorilla in recent years. And if you poke around enough, there are even places where the weight of the gorilla has climbed up into the thousands of pounds. An 800-pound gorilla — let alone a puny 500-pounder — apparently simply doesn’t convey as much shock and awe as it once did.
We were feeling particularly flummoxed about the issue when it came to put together the 2022 Salary Summer last autumn, so we decided to consult the true experts: certified IT professionals. Yes, this is another of those times when we let you in the data from a question included in the Not So Serious section placed at the end of the survey each year.
You can decide for yourself whether certified IT professionals should have the last word. We’re just here to tell you what they said. Here’s what we learned:
Q: How heavy is the proverbial gorilla that throws its weight around, really?
500 pounds — 6.5 percent
800 pounds — 16.3 percent
900 pounds — 8.4 percent
The weight is metaphorical and therefore subject to adjustment (or exaggeration) as needed. — 36.3 percent
Inflation touches everything. It will be a half-ton gorilla any day now. — 13.3 percent
There is no gorilla. — 10.1 percent
I am the gorilla. — 9.1 percent
You can see at a glance that there’s more support for 800 pounds than there is for either 500 pounds or 900 pounds. The 800-pound club, on the other hand, is not where the biggest segment of the survey population settled in. More than a third of all respondents chose the option where the weight is at the discretion of whoever is using the phrase.
In essence, these people are taking the practical approach, telling the rest of us, “Look here, gang. The gorilla’s not even real. The point is not to express the weight as an actual concrete number. The point is to express that the gorilla can do what it wants. Use whatever number you feel is appropriate to convey that underlying sentiment.”
We also offered those surveyed the option to dismiss the gorilla, inhabit the gorilla, or blame the gorilla problem, like everything else these days, on inflation. And people (ahem) weighed in to support each of those potential solutions as well. So the consensus is that there is no consensus. You can make whatever you will out of metaphorical gorillas. And should you chance to encounter a live gorilla, well, don't push you luck. No matter how much it weighs.