Have you ever wondered what it means to 'make a mountain out of a molehill?' Well, you're about to find out. This article will teach you the meaning of this idiom, as well as its possible origins and how to use it in a sentence.
But before we get started, here's the short version:
This expression is an idiom, which means we shouldn't take it literally. Although, like many idioms, looking at the literal meaning can help us understand the intended message. So, let's take a look.
A molehill is a small pile of earth pushed up to the surface when a mole digs to make their tunnel. It looks like a tiny hill. As you probably know, a mountain is more than a massive pile of earth; it's a natural elevation of the Earth's surface. It's much bigger than a molehill.
Imagine, for example, that your friend is freaking out because they got a B on their latest paper. You might say to them:
You're making a mountain out of a molehill, you've got straight As this semester; one B won't make a big difference.
To "make a mountain out of a molehill" is an idiom that means to exaggerate or overreact to a minor or insignificant issue, making it seem much larger or more important than it really is.
It suggests that someone is blowing things out of proportion and giving undue attention or significance to something that doesn't warrant it. Essentially, it's about turning a minor problem or inconvenience into a big one through excessive worry, drama, or attention.
Bear in mind that the idiom contains a verb so that you might see it in various forms, such as:
The exact origin of the idiom "make a mountain out of a molehill" is not well-documented, but it has been in use in the English language for several centuries. The expression likely emerged in the 16th or 17th century.
But expressions that play on the idea of making a big deal out of nothing have been around for even longer, but they've used different metaphors. For instance, the Greek satirist Lucian played on the idea of the comparison between an elephant and a fly in his The Fly, published between 200 and 100 AD, where he said, in Latin:
elephantem ex musca facere
This translates to 'make an elephant out of a fly.'
The first documented use in print of the mountain and molehill metaphors seems to appear in Nicholas Udall's 1548 translation of The first tome or volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus vpon the newe testament. In this text, he translates Erasmus's words:
The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye
But interestingly, he decides to add to this passage a phrase that wasn't in Erasmus's original work:
The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill.
We aren't entirely sure why he decided to add this on, but it is a nice alliteration that's very pleasing to the ears, so this might explain his decision to make creative edits to the original text.
It seems the idiom grew in popularity after that.
Now we've covered the meaning of this popular idiom and its possible origins, let's take a look at how it's used in real-life scenarios by way of a few examples.
Sarah makes a mountain out of a molehill whenever she misplaces her keys, thinking she's lost them forever.
Instead of calmly addressing the small error in the report, the manager made a mountain out of a molehill, causing team morale to sink to an all-time low.
Jake couldn't bear the slightest bit of stress and had a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Mary realized she had made a mountain out of a molehill when she panicked about running out of milk and then found an unopened carton in the refrigerator.
The teacher tried to reassure the students that failing one quiz was not a reason to make a mountain out of a molehill; there would be plenty of opportunities to improve their grades.
Mark's exaggerated reaction to a minor scratch on his new car showed that he had a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill when it came to his possessions.
Instead of arguing with your colleague over such a minor disagreement, it's best not to make a mountain out of a molehill and find a compromise.
The weather forecast predicted a light rain shower, but some people were making a mountain out of a molehill, acting as if it were going to be a catastrophic storm.
Don't make a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to choosing a restaurant for dinner. Any place will do; it's just a meal.
When the airline announced a brief delay, some passengers made a mountain out of a molehill, expressing frustration as if it were a major inconvenience.
With English being such a rich language, there's always more than one way to say something. 'Make a mountain out of a molehill' is no exception.
Here are just some of the other ways you can say it:
So there you have it. If you have a friend (or you yourself) who tends to blow things out of proportion, you might say they have a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!