Making a Mountain out of a Molehill – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that they are overreacting to a situation? You could tell them they are “making a mountain out of a molehill” and they should rather calm down.
This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression “making a mountain out of a molehill” means to make a big fuss over nothing. A person might be taking something insignificant and attempting to turn it into a big problem.

It’s common for this saying to apply to situations where the protagonist attempts to draw attention to other people’s errors to get them in trouble with another party. They think that making a big fuss over something significant may draw attention away from their mistakes.

The phrase can also mean that someone is purposefully focusing on making a big deal out of an insignificant topic to get attention. They act selfishly and use the situation to get their moment in the spotlight.

Example Usage

“Why are you trying to make a mountain out of a molehill with this? It’s like you’re intentionally trying to get me in trouble with the boss.”

“C’mon, honey, there’s no need to make a mountain out of a molehill. I was only an hour late from hanging with the boys; it won’t happen again.”

“There’s no reason to make a mountain out of a molehill over this. We’re apologizing for the problem, and we’ll make it work.”

“Making a mountain out of a molehill with this will only make things worse for everyone. Stop and think about what you’re doing before you make too much out of this.”

“If you’re thinking about making a mountain out of a molehill about this, go ahead. I have plenty of people on my side that are willing to testify as witnesses.”

Origin

The expression “making a mountain out of a molehill” originates from the mid-1600s. The exact origin of the saying is unclear. However, language experts believe the first use of the expression in writing came from James Howell in 1660. Howell wrote a book of poems where the phrase appears as follows.

“Making mountains of molehill.”

Of note, Wikipedia states that this saying was used in a book published in 1548 called “translated in part by

Nicholas Udall would also use an iteration of the saying in 1548. He published his translation of the work, “The first tome of the Paraphrase of Erasmus vpon the newe testament.” The expression appears in the following archaic language.

“The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill.”

Phrases Similar to Making a Mountain out of a Molehill

  • Stretch the truth.
  • Add color.
  • British overpitch.
  • Over-dramatize.

Phrases Opposite to Making a Mountain out of a Molehill

  • Play down.
  • Make light of something.
  • Think nothing of it.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Make a mountain out of a molehill.

Ways People May Say Making a Mountain out of a Molehill Incorrectly

Using the phrase to describe mountains or moles is incorrect. The “molehill” in this expression is a small problem, and by trying to turn it into a mountain, the person is exaggerating the severity of the initial problem. As a result, they are intentionally trying to make things worse for someone else to benefit themselves.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Making a Mountain out of a Molehill

You can use the phrase “mountain out of a molehill” when you’re trying to tell someone they are overreacting to a situation. The expression suits professional and social use. You can use it at the office when another employee is trying to make a big deal out of nothing to get someone else in trouble.

Use it at home when your kid tries to get your attention by crying and screaming about taking a minor bump or fall. It’s generally associated with people who are using hyperbole or over-exaggeration to gain the attention of others.

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