The 30,000 foot view of the 800 pound gorilla

What's the significance of the 30,000 foot view of the 800 pound gorilla?Over the years I have amassed quite a collections of inspirational life quotes, assorted pearls of wisdom, and research material on the origins of many popular idioms. I am fascinated by various words and phrases that get used in everyday language that people use and have no clue as to their origin. Many axioms and idioms are pretty simple to explain. They are handed down through the generations and used when they fit the occasion at hand. Idioms are not always inspirational but they can be interesting.

What's the significance of the 30,000 foot view of the 800 pound gorilla?

The view from 30,000 feet is meant to describe looking at something from a very high level to see the total picture without a lot of details. Because people don't understand the origin of the phrase you will see many variations of the phrase such as the 10,000 foot view, or 20,000 foot view. The significance of the 30,000 foot view is that 30,000 fee is the average cruising altitude of a commercial jet.

Much like the view from 30,000 feet the size of 800-pound gorilla often varies because people do not understand the origin of the phrase. There is a classic joke that asks the question, "Where does an 800 pound gorilla sit?" The answer is anywhere it wants to. The phrase is used to describe large corporations that can do whatever they want because they are so large.

The origins of idioms and ideas

Every time a new expression comes out people think it is the best thing since sliced bread and jump on the bandwagon. Then there are those who are late to the party, and I have to tell them that Elvis has left the building.

Of course the best thing since sliced bread is something so cool we love it. Who likes unsliced bread? But when you jump on the bandwagon you are telling folks you are supporting their cause. Back in the days of horse and buggy the bandwagon carried the musicians at the head of a parade, and everyone followed. As far as the phrase used in general terms to mean jumping into anything that was popular and going along for the ride, many point to a documented usage of the phrase by Teddy Roosevelt in 1899.

When you are late to the party you miss out on a lot of cool stuff, but once Elvis has left the building, the party is pretty much over. The phrase "Elvis has left the building" was used by public address announcers at the conclusion of Elvis Presley concerts in order to disperse the crowd. Elvis is gone, there is nothing left for you to see, so you can go home now. The line "Elvis has left the building" has become a catchphrase in modern culture used at the end of any event to signify that there is nothing left for you to see, so you can go home now.

A cool Star Trek example

From the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 1986, an exchange between Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock:

Kirk: If we play our cards right, we may be able to find out when those whales are being released.
Spock: How will playing cards help?

Stop back to this page as I will be adding some additional items and links to others.

Next up, a very commonly used phrase, based on a very bizarre event, drinking the Kool-Aid.


A crazy lunatic and the deadly story behind drinking the Kool-Aid

Questy remembers one crazy lunatic and the tragedy of drinking the Kool-Aid On television and radio talk shows I often hear the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" to describe a person who follows someone mindlessly, without thinking about the consequences. In many cases the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" is used in conversation as mindlessly as the person it describes. I often wonder, does the person using the phrase really understand the very ugly event associated with that phrase.

The connection of the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" with the actions of an individual who mindlessly follows some idea or individual comes from one of the largest mass murders in modern human history. In 1978, cult leader Jim Jones persuaded over 900 of his followers to drink a fruit drink laced with cyanide. The event known as the Jonestown Massacre has been called a mass suicide by some, but survivors have told the story of mind control and manipulation that lead to one of the greatest cult tragedies in modern history. The tragedy at Jonestown included the murder of a U.S. congressman and NBC News correspondent during an incident that took place prior to the mass murder that resulted in the deaths of more than 900 people.

Charismatic cult leader Jim Jones

The leader of the Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, had a vision for a Utopian world. In 1956 Jones started the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana as a racially integrated church that focused on helping people in need.

Jones moved the Peoples Temple to Redwood Valley in Northern California in 1966. California seemed much more open to accepting an integrationist church than Indiana. As the Peoples Temple expanded into the San Francisco Bay Area they established homes for the elderly and the mentally ill. They also helped addicts and foster children. The work done by the Peoples Temple was praised in newspapers and by local politicians.

At first people trusted Jim Jones, and believed he had a clear vision for his followers. As his community grew larger, Jones became infatuated with power, and his delusions grew as well, as Jones began to describe himself as Christ. Fueled by drug usage Jones became paranoid and believed that the government was after him.

Utopian commune in the jungle turns deadly

Jim Jones moved the Peoples Temple from California to the jungles of Guyana in South America to create his vision of a Utopian commune. The conditions at the Jonestown commune were far from Utopian and Jones began to tightly control the members of the Peoples Temple.

Upon hearing stories of various human rights abuses, concerned relatives of the Peoples Temple members pressured the U.S. Government to investigate. A group led by U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan of California, along with NBC News correspondent Don Harris and various other members of the media, took a trip to Guyana to visit Jonestown in November of 1978. The trip ignited Jim Jones's fears of a government conspiracy that was out to get him.

Congressman Ryan was joined by a group of Jonestown defectors hoping to leave Guyana. The group drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes. Armed Peoples Temple members named the Red Brigade opened fire on the group. Congressman Leo Ryan, three members of the media, and one Peoples Temple defector were killed in the attack. Those who survived the attack ran off into the jungle.

Jim Jones called a meeting of his followers under the pavilion in the early evening in Jonestown on November 18, 1978. Before the meeting, aides prepared a large metal tub with grape Flavor Aid mixed with a lethal combination of drugs such as Valium and cyanide. There are various versions and transcripts of the so-called “Death Tape," an audiotape of the moments leading up to and during the mass deaths. In the final words of the death tape Jim Jones states, "We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." According to the website "Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple," Jim Jones describes “revolutionary suicide” as an appropriate alternative to being taken prisoner or going into slavery.

Drinking the Kool-Aid mixed with drugs

Even though the actual beverage laced with drugs in Jonestown was Flavor Aid, the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" became popular to describe the members of the Peoples Temple and the events of the massacre. Perhaps the mix of Kool-Aid and drugs made more sense or sounded better because of the book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." The nonfiction book by Tom Wolfe, published in 1968, describes a mix of LSD in Kool-Aid, dubbed "Electric Kool-Aid." Wolfe's book chronicles the adventures of novelist Ken Kesey and his group of followers called the "Merry Pranksters," as they travel the country in their party bus offering to share their "Electric Kool-Aid."

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test did not have a tragic ending, but it did have a few eerie parallels. Ken Kesey is portrayed as a captivating spiritual leader starting a new religion. Kesey forms a group of close followers who participate in the drug-fueled lifestyle in the woods of California. The phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" describing a drug laced fruit came a decade before the deaths at Jonestown.

Questy remembers one crazy lunatic

A crazy lunatic and the deadly story behind drinking the Kool-AidSadly, the tragedy of over 900 deaths caused by one crazy lunatic are remembered by the phrase "drinking the Kool Aid." For many years I have thought about creating a section in the World of Questy to discuss the origins of many popular idioms.

The idea for this article get stirred up in my mind every time I hear the phrase "drinking the Kool Aid" used like it is a punchline to a joke. Maybe as you learn more about the origin of the phrase, and the gruesome details of the event, you will think of coming up with a new phrase to describe a mindless follower of an idea.


References and resources to learn more:

“Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple” ( provides quite a bit of information on the events surrounding the tragedy of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown massacre. The site is sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University .