In the old times, when it came to a match between our ancient wrestlers, the participants in order to define the strongest ones used to grab a rock and raise it to gain more popularity; but prior to taking that when the person tended to pick a very big rock the surrounding audience had am expression which they would use to convey the message: it is the "sign of" a failure meaning that they might not be able to lift a stone of that size!

Later, the expression turned to a proverbial sentence and today, it can be used for any unlikely, improbable or unrealistic case which is a bit far from mind to occure! Actually we use this proverb to allude to any sort of seemingly unattainable goal which is too big to be achieved.

The only equivalent I've come across in English is:

  • Great promise, small performance. [wich you can with a simple search on google find it as a type of translation from another language]

I was wondering if there is any equivalent of such a concept in current English.

Thank you in advance.

2 Answers 2


A US business phrase heard frequently is

  • Let's find a solution which doesn't require boiling the ocean

Ie, the solution requires we solve some insolubly-large sub-problem.

For the suggestion that loud people are not effective:

  • An empty vessel makes the most sound (proverb)

Perhaps one of these fits your circumstance.

  • Thank you @jonathanjo; it sounds as if "boiling the ocean" fits well. ;)
    – A-friend
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 14:20
  • Just how shall I use it so that it could sound more befitting in this case? I.e. saying something like: it's like boiling the ocan would work in your mind? Or he's going to boil the ocean?
    – A-friend
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 14:26
  • 1
    Perhaps "George always thinks he can boil the ocean"
    – jonathanjo
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 14:27

I am not aware of an identical expression. However there are parallels, especially relating to people whose great ambitions lead to their downfall.

Among them is the line in Shakespeare's play Macbeth that refers to the protagonist's fatal ambition to gain power at all costs:

To prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself and falls on th'other-- (Numerous explanations of this complicated metaphor are available online)

The dangers of overweening ambition are also drawn in another Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, which points to the perils of lusting for power. One of Caesar's assassins, Brutus, tells the crowd that ambition's debt is paid.

Also (although rather vaguely) related to your expression is the tale of The Mountain in Labour in one of Aesop's Fables. Although the mountain's groans raise great expectations among the populace, it gives birth to just a mouse.

We use this expression to refer to occasions when excessive promotion and assurances lead to a disappointing result.

https://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/vaulting-ambition https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/246031/whats-the-pun-in-this-julius-caesar-reference https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mountain_in_Labour

  • But @Ronal Sole I really don't want to speak shakespearean at all. :)) Please provide me with a more modern equivalent. Thank you again. ;)
    – A-friend
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 11:59
  • Moreover, I was not at all about a "downfall"! I need an expression which can indirectly cite such a belief that **if you want to do something veru unnatural or tend to arrive at a very enormous objective, it can lead to a failure.
    – A-friend
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 12:42
  • @A-friend I hope that others can be more helpful to you than I proved. Commented May 6, 2019 at 12:59

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