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There is an adage in South Asia which literally translates to: A camel has finally seen the mountain. Which basically goes back to a story where a camel used to think that it was the tallest until it sees a mountain and it realizes that it isn't and there are things taller and bigger than it.

Here is an example usage: BlackBerry used to think they were the biggest in cell phone market until they saw Apple; the camel has seen the mountain.

Is there an expression in English for this?

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    As the old streetwise adage goes, "you're no longer a big fish in a small pond, instead you're a small fish in a big pond." – skullpatrol Apr 2 at 23:00
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    It's only a paraphrase, but I like "rendered silent by a wild surmise, upon a peak in Darien." – Sven Yargs Apr 3 at 6:57
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    I don't know that the Blackberry example fits - Blackberry actually was the biggest for a time, until Apple entered the business. The camel was never the tallest, he just didn't know about mountains. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 3 at 15:11
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    Man runs into a Western saloon, screams "Big Jim's coming!" and runs out. Minutes later, the ground shakes as a veritable mountain of a man pushes through the doors and thunders toward the bar. "Give me a whiskey!" he bellows. The bartender asks "ar-ar-are you staying long, sir?" The answer rattles the glasses: "Nope, gotta go. Big Jim's coming!" – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 3 at 21:10

10 Answers 10

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There’s always a bigger fish conveys a similar concept:

No matter how large or intimidating a person or thing is, there is likely to be an even larger or more intimidating person or thing somewhere.

(Wiktionary)

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  • This is related to the idea as it is a statement rounding up the situation that is the background for the assertion that we are looking for. That latter has to express in typified terms the situation that confirms their not being the "bigger fish" and discovering a bigger one suddenly. It is that assertion in terms of the culture of the English language that is sought. – LPH Apr 2 at 22:13
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    Unless I've misunderstood, OP wants to describe the person (or small fish) discovering that this is the case, rather than just describe the concept of there being a bigger fish. – Will Crawford Apr 3 at 14:08
  • Here's it being used in a Star Wars movie: youtube.com/watch?v=bjQRTFX1Lp4 – T.E.D. Apr 4 at 16:37
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There is a question on Quora asking for the English translation of this from Hindi.

It suggests a couple of other idiomatic English versions, such as:

  • someone has been cut down to size

  • some one has been shown his place

I'd like to add (for reference, for future visitors) a couple that were more common, at least when I was learning to read:

  • he has been taken down a peg (or two)

which I always thought referred to the traditional "ladders" used in school sports (including chess) clubs, but according to t'Internet might refer to the naval practice of pinning colours at varying heights depending on the status of the vessel's commanding (or ranking) officer.

and the older but still reasonably common

  • been knocked off their pedestal

although neither of these really captures the sense of discovery inherent in the original adage.


But please go and vote for @lph's answer.

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The following phrase is something that approaches closely the translation that is sought. It implies the possible understanding of an equality but superiority is taken into account as well (ref.).

  • He had met his match. (She had met her match.,…)

The Free Dictionary

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  • Edited just to highlight the quote and the reference. Please roll back if you wish. (And +1). – Nigel J Apr 3 at 8:45
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    This doesn’t really highlight the prior sense of superiority getting corrected. Someone well aware of their limitations can still meet their match. – KRyan Apr 3 at 17:16
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    @KRyan no, you're confusing the literal meaning with the normal usage (which is very much to mean “has had ones breakneck forward progress brought to an ignominious halt by an equally immoveable object”, sorry). – Will Crawford Apr 4 at 0:25
  • @WillCrawford No, in contexts where that is the case, there is context that indicates that is the case. It is not a part of this phrase by itself. – KRyan Apr 4 at 1:51
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    This suggestion is a good one for the intended meaning described originally. The expression may not necessarily imply that someone previously had failed to consider himself not being superior, though is often used in such contexts. Sometimes the adverb finally is added to this expression. E.g. "Blackberry had long dominated the market, and assumed it would continue, but finally met its match with Apple's introduction of the iPhone." – epl Apr 4 at 2:55
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A rude surprise. The fastest camel in Giza tried out for the races in Cairo and got a rude surprise. When BlackBerry saw what the iPhone could do, it was a rude surprise to them. It's most commonly used in future tense: if that camel goes to Cairo, it will be in for a rude surprise.

The first usage I found was an article "A rude surprise could be awaiting Trump". It suggests he thinks he's been making a very strong court case, but that his efforts have actually been making it very weak.

The "rude" is very idiomatic. It's more like a traumatic surprise, but that doesn't have the same meaning. A rude surprise suggests the target has a great deal of pride, hubris even, and finds out they were very wrong.

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    It could also be "a rude awakening", which is a little more common. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rude%20awakening – computercarguy Apr 3 at 18:16
  • Rude Awakening seems more general: "not as you expected". Say if Cairo races used hurdles, since they felt regular races were boring, and they also expected the camels to be good with children afterwards. My fast Giza camel would be a failure there, but would still be the fastest runner. – Owen Reynolds Apr 3 at 18:36
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    I'm not following your examples there. Changing the rules from a straight race to adding hurdles is a significant change to the race itself. And none of this has any relation to whether the camel is good with children. If you were to enter your camel into a long distance race and thought it was equivalent to a marathon, then realized it as a 150 mile race once you got there, you'd be in for a rude awakening for failing to read the contest rules and only believing your preconceived notion of what "long distance" meant. – computercarguy Apr 3 at 19:10
  • The camel got a Rude Awakening -- it assumed speed was all that mattered in the Cairo races. Or look at that Webster definition: he merely wants to get by, he doesn't assume he'll be valedictorian. I'm claiming Rude Awakening is more general. It doesn't capture as well "I think I'm high-rank -- whoa! I'm not even close!" as Rude Surprise does. – Owen Reynolds Apr 3 at 20:51
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put somebody in their place

to show someone that they are not as clever or important as they think they are

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    This needs to be in the passive form (i.e. being put in one's place) to match OP's description. In other words the camel of the original idiom might say well that's certainly put me in my place. – Will Crawford Apr 3 at 14:09
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To be "taken down a peg" means that your ego or pride has been reduced by some event.

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bring (one) down to earth

To cause one who is fantasizing or being overly optimistic to remember or consider reality.

So you would say "Blackberry was brought down to earth".

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humbled could be a short answer.

I thought I was a good swordsperson but I was humbled when I see him fight.

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My mom always told me "There will always be someone smarter than you," when she was trying to curb my big-fish-small-pond effect. It didn't fully hit until I went to a different school. After I went through that transition, I would say that "I had gone from being the cream of the crop to being the bottom of the barrel".

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When I got to university in UK after 5 years in high school and 4 years in the army, I finally got a wake up call. One could say the camel finally saw the mountain.

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  • There is not in this phrase the idea of the revelation of something bigger (OALD, 2.). Also, if you think that you can simply use the adage (which is probably not known by many people) and since you put the constatation into the narrator's mouth as a remark about him/herself why not say "One could say I was the camel that finally saw the mountain." as this indicates to the reader a reference to an adage or a story? – LPH Apr 8 at 15:16

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