Escalating a small thing into big problem. It’s basically taking a tiny issue and turning it into a bigger one.
Example: I couldn’t remember the exact date that I met my wife and so she became upset with me and started making a mountain out of a molehill. Things eventually calmed down, but hey, at least I got the year correct!
The Origin Of ‘Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill’
The origin of this phrase is unknown. As for its age, this saying is over 350 years old, as it is found in writing as early as the year 1660. It’s written in a lexicon book containing proverbs from many different languages by James Howell, and there’s a part inside that reads:
“Making mountains of molehill.”
The idea for this phrase is this: Someone takes something small, represented by the molehill in the idiom, and makes it into something big. So, for example, imagine someone wanted to enjoy some ice cream, but they accidentally dropped it on the ground, and so they threw a temper tantrum. Even though the problem was small—dropping ice cream on the ground—the person overreacted and made the problem bigger than it needed to be. Thus, one could say they made ‘a mountain out of a molehill.’
Interestingly, the concept for this idiom—making something small into something bigger—has existed for an even longer time. Instead of mountains and molehills, however, this older phrase, according to Wikipedia, goes “making an elephant out of a fly.” This older phrase is said to go back to at least the mid 16th century, or more specifically, the year 1548. So it’s possible that ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ derives from this earlier expression.
- Deacon was looking forward to making stuffed green peppers for dinner, but when he went to make them, he didn’t have everything he needed. He was greatly annoyed and began making a mountain out of a molehill. He realized the grocery store was only a few minutes away, so he cooled his jets.
Note: The origins of a phrase may be unclear at times. What’s provided in cases like that are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated, but not necessarily so. If there are no theories, then I’ll try to at least include the oldest known citation of the expression being used in writing.
In addition, quotes that contain a phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means shows they originated from these. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already well known, and thus, from an older period of time.