This morning, SC belatedly noticed that one of his favorite financial websites had previewed Monday's ExxonMobil earnings announcement with this sentence:
On Monday, Exxon Mobil (XOM), the 500-pound gorilla of oil companies, reports.
Your host was under the impression that the usual expression was "800-pound gorilla", not 500, so this prompted the usual Google-based word frequency counts:
So it would seem that while a variety of different numbers might be used for emphasis (or simply be speech errors, that once you get out past the magic large multiple of 10 (1,000), aside from the cheap metaphor of an 800-pound gorilla doubling in size to a 1600-pound gorilla (see here, here, and here for some examples), the numbers tail off quickly. But this monkey's tail turns out to be a bit longer than you might think:
|3200||22 (but really only 2)|
Note that the multiple joke peters out very quickly with only 3 legitimate occurrences of references to (800 times N) once N gets to 4 or higher -- except at the special case of 8,000. More commonly, we like to make references to multiples of 5, especially when they're also multiples of 10 (the 10x factor explaing why 8000 breaks the pattern of the 800*N formula). They're nicely emphatic numbers, well-suited to the hyperbolic character of the underlying "unstoppably enormous" metaphor they're attached to.
SC was amused to discover that the Wall Street Journal's Carl Bialik covered some of the same territory in April last year, and for a change, the article isn't behind a subscriber firewall (scroll down a bit to see it). His article illustrates some of the amusing math (like two 800-pound gorilla companies merging to form a 1600-pounder), and also points out the absurdity of the metaphor in light of the actual weight of real gorillas; an expert is cited to the effect that a typical silverback, among the largest of gorillas, weighs in around 400 pounds. There are some great examples in there of even bigger stretches of the metaphor, so go read it for yourself. And while you're at it, make sure to check out this American Journalism Review article (linked in the WSJ article) which arranges gorilla weights in ascending order from 500 to 1600 pounds.