What do People Mean When They Refer to an "800 Pound Gorilla"?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

There is a classic riddle which asks where an 800 pound gorilla sits. The answer is anywhere it wants to. This is the philosophy behind the expression "800 pound gorilla," which refers to corporations, organizations or even individuals so powerful and dominant that they literally control or at least influence all other competitors in their fields. The search engine Google™ could be considered one in the web search community, for example, because it clearly dominates the field and competitors often find themselves reacting to any changes Google™ chooses to implement. When an 800 pound gorilla moves, it's often best to move with it or else give it plenty of room.

An organization, like the American Red Cross, can be considered an 800 pound gorilla.
An organization, like the American Red Cross, can be considered an 800 pound gorilla.

There are other companies and organizations which could be considered 800 pound gorillas. The computer software giant Microsoft® is often touted as the gorilla of the industry. Whenever Microsoft® decides to release a major upgrade to its proprietary Windows® operating system, other software developers must adapt to the changes in formatting, programming and security or else risk losing their share of the market. Even if a big company makes a wrong turn, as some critics charge with Microsoft's upgrade to Vista®, its sheer size and force of personality can still influence all others in its wake.

Certain religious views may be seen as 800-pound gorillas in their community.
Certain religious views may be seen as 800-pound gorillas in their community.

An organization can also be considered an 800 pound gorilla. The American Red Cross is clearly a leader in the world of crisis management, for example. Other relief agencies may provide similar services on a smaller scale, but only the Red Cross has such a significant amount of resources and funding at its command. Some may also argue that a particularly large religious denomination, such as Catholicism, could be considered one within the world of religion. A crisis of faith within the Catholic church could have serious ramifications for all other Christian denominations because of its sheer size and scope. Whether the effects are ultimately positive or negative, such a large organization is often the force responsible for major structural changes.

Besides corporations and organizations, certain individuals may inherit 800 pound gorilla status. A powerful and well-connected politician could be described using this term. When a politician of this stature becomes interested in a certain piece of legislation or a political cause, the legislative wheels often turn faster. Certain religious leaders could also be considered 800 pound gorillas in their communities, since their opinions are respected by millions of followers and carry a significant amount of weight in society.

Any 800 pound gorilla is bound to make a mistake or two during its career, and often those missteps or miscalculations can have a damaging ripple effect on the entire industry, but at least it's still able to move. As long as one is happy and moving in the right direction, others can benefit from its leadership, willingness to take risks and the capacity to accept the occasional failure.

An "800 pound gorilla" may refer to an emotional crisis someone is dealing with.
An "800 pound gorilla" may refer to an emotional crisis someone is dealing with.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Cupcake15-Some Republican politicians do not like her influence and feel that she overshadows others.

In fact she does have a lot of influence in the Republican Party and actually has helped many in the past congressional election get elected.

In fact every time she speaks in public it makes national news.

This is also having some effect on her daughter Bristol, who is on “Dancing with the Stars”.

Despite having the lowest technical ratings from the judges, she made it to the top three because Americans voted for her.

However, Brandy, who the judges consistently rated in the top spot, was sent home because she got the lowest amount of votes from the public.


Istria- That is true. I think that many people see Sarah Palin as the 800 pound gorilla. In fact she was the keynote speaker at a convention of Governors and although many prominent governors were there the news coverage revolved around Sarah Palin.


In some cases, the 800-pound gorilla can also be the elephant in the room. The 800-pound gorilla can be an obstacle for a smaller company that is trying to make a name for themselves in a competitive market. I think whether being an 800-pound gorilla is a good or a bad thing depends on one’s perspective.

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