On a conference call the other day a colleague made a reference to the “800-pound gorilla in the room.”

The next day, I was talking with a 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]