One of our readers used this expression in a recent comment:
make a mountain out of a mole hole
I assumed that the writer had intended to write the common expression
make a mountain out of a molehill.
I was about to shrug it off as a typo and move on when I thought I’d just Google the unfamiliar version.
I found enough examples to indicate that the reader’s version is in fairly common use. I found the “mole hole” version in headlines, subject lines, comments and serious articles. Here are a few examples:
The media paints the picture of a mountainous recession, but it may simply be a mole hole of slow growth that we must conquer. The Fed is creative and seemingly cogent enough to get the economy through its current stress. –New N Economics
However, Mr. Dubad gave us the impression that the sky is falling apart and a civil war is in the offing. He made a mountain out of mole hole. –The Somaliland Times
Think too hard and you’ll over think the problem. Consider the size of the problem too much and you’ll make a mountain out of a mole hole. –Quest Venture Partners
The English word mole has various meanings:
1. a spot on the skin
2. a burrowing animal
3. a wall or other barrier built in the sea to hold back water
4. a unit of molecular quantity
5. a spy (figurative use because, like a mole, a spy burrows in darkness)
It is the second sense that gives us “molehill.” The word mole may come from mouldwarp, lit. “earth-thrower.” Moles tunnel beneath the earth. A surface opening to a tunnel is often marked by a little pile of earth, a molehill. A molehill is not very large, but it is shaped like a mountain. A person who makes a big fuss over a small matter is said to be making a mountain out of a molehill.
Here’s an example of the expression from over 400 years ago:
“To much amplifying thinges yt. be but small, makyng mountaines of Molehils.” [John Foxe, “Acts and Monuments,” 1570]
It’s not clear to me why molehills should have morphed into mole holes. I can see an immediate connection between a molehill and a mountain, but not between a mole hole and a mountain. Wouldn’t an exaggerated hole be more like a crater or a lake than a mountain?
In researching the expression I came across numerous tourist retreats called “The Mole Hole.” Perhaps their existence has contributed to the shift.
I know. I’m just making a mountain of a mole—-.