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What does It Mean When Someone Makes a "Mountain out of a Molehill"?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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When someone is accused of making a mountain out of a molehill, the implication is that he or she is exaggerating a situation, making it seem much larger and more important than it really is. It can also be a suggestion that the person is too involved and minute to understand that situation, as to an ant, a molehill is a mountain. This proverb can also be reversed, with people being accused of making a molehill out of a mountain when they understate a situation or problem.

Numerous pithy folk sayings all boil down to the same basic idea, that someone is making altogether too much fuss for a given situation. People can be accused of making tempests in teapots, for example, or of making much ado about nothing. The widespread use and incredible diversity of such sayings is perhaps a testimonial to the human tendency to exaggerate situations, especially situations in which one is personally involved, as this makes the situation seem more important and more interesting.

When you make a mountain out of a molehill, you do expose yourself to some danger, primarily in the form of mockery. When people believe that a situation is not very important and someone stretches the truth to make it seem bigger, the response is generally not very favorable. If someone becomes known for making mountains out of molehills, he or she may also be ignored in a really serious situation which does merit attention.

The desire to exaggerate a situation is certainly understandable, especially when it involves a cause which someone holds dear or feels especially passionate about. For example, someone who is rabidly anti-development might be as angry about a three house development as about a 70 house development, with the same emotions driving both responses. If this person chooses to make a mountain out of a molehill when protesting the three house development, however, people may be less inclined to listen when he or she lodges a protest against the 70 house development.

Making something out of nothing is a popular pastime for some people, and the rejoinder to “not make a mountain out of a molehill” is usually designed to sound a note of warning. If you feel yourself getting worked up about a situation or event, take some time to cool down and consider the situation before making too much of things.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Jul 14, 2011

I have to say that I can sometimes be the kind of person who makes a mountain out of a mole hill.

I just can't help it. Sometimes something will set me off. I know that usually it isn't about the situation that I'm upset over though. Usually there is something else which is upsetting me for some reason and this is how my brain chooses to bring out all the emotion.

I'm lucky though, that I have friends who know me well and love me, so when this happens they just help me get over it. But, maybe they can now tell when I'm just doing the mountain molehill thing and when I'm actually really wanting to change a situation.

I guess I think it's important to know people, and get to the heart of the problem, rather than worrying too much about how they choose to express it.

By irontoenail — On Jul 13, 2011

This idiomatic expression is kind of related to the "boy who cried wolf". It's got the same sentiment at least, that you don't make a mountain out of a molehill if you don't want people to stop caring about your opinion.

When I was a teenager one of my friends told me she noticed that I never swore. Of course at that age everyone was trying to outdo each other with colorful expressions, and I didn't think that was wrong. I just didn't do it myself.

She told me she thought if I ever did swear, it would mean I really, really meant it. That it was something important.

That's what I think of when I think of these phrases. The value of keeping your emphasis in reserve for when you really need it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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