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I came across two approximate sayings “Making a mountain out of a molehill” and “Much ado about nothing” coincidentally in tandem in the home page of today’s (June 7) New York Times.

  • Making a mountain out of a digital molehill: The revelations this week that the federal government has been scooping up records of telephone calls inside the United States for seven years, and secretly collecting information from Internet companies on foreigners overseas for nearly six years, have elicited predictable outrage from liberals and civil libertarians.

  • Arguing their way into love : Joss Whedon’s adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” draws out the essential screwball nature of Shakespeare’s comedy.

I understand “Make a mountain out of a molehill” refers to exaggeration about an existing matter and “Much ado about nothing” refers to a fuss about a matter which doesn’t exist. But they look somewhat akin to me in actual usage.

Are they entirely different animals, i.e. expressions? Can’t I rephrase them interchangeably in conversation?

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On wikipaedia, where else, the page confirms both idioms have similar meanings. Interestingly it claims:"It is said that the concept traces back to The Bible. Book of Zechariah 4:6-7 states: "For who are you, O great mountain[...]? Before Zerubbabel [...] you shall become a plain [a mere [a]molehill]! And he shall bring forth the finishing gable stone [of the new temple] with loud shoutings of the people, crying, Grace, grace to it!"[9] –  Mari-Lou A Jun 8 '13 at 0:08
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3 Answers

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Like any kind of synonyms, there are never exact replaceable-in-all-contexts pairs. They both talk about making a big deal out of something that isn't. But they might have nuances that make one better than the other depending on circumstances.

The Shakespeare title, both by association and by using the rarer word 'ado', is a little more upscale. Well, molehill is somewhat rare, too, but is definitely of earthier connotation.

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The word 'ado' is an archaic form of 'to do'. The "Nothing" in the Shakespeare title is slang for 'vagina'. –  Marcos Gonzalez Jun 8 '13 at 20:06
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In essence, they have the same meaning, which you have defined accurately. I would describe it as don't make a bigger issue out of something than it is (as it may cause one stress, avoidance, or stirring up a potential volatile topic of debate). They are sayings and even though both are English they would be considered different dialects of the English language. One would be more apt to hear 'much ado about nothing' in England or a higher rung of the social ladder. Where as to 'make a mountain out of a molehill' may be more often found in the Mid-Western States (where molehill's are not all that uncommon) and/or among a less sophisticated circle.

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'Much Ado About Nothing' is a pun by Shakespeare. Much ado about 'no thing'. It is a reference to women indirectly and that love is about sex. It is a loaded title that isn't necessarily about making something out of nothing, which the other statement implies. Furthermore, the other statement is about exaggeration; however 'Much Ado About Nothing' is an ironic term, meaning the exact opposite in the context that Shakespeare was writing in. He meant much ado about love - an abstract noun- something that in not tangible. Therefore, the 'nothing'. It is a reference to the fact that you can't see or touch love. It is in effect nothing.

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