The phrase is rooted in a joke riddle:
"Where does an 800-lb. gorilla sit?"
The answer: On the whole world."
This highlights the disparity of power between the "800-lb. gorilla" and everything else. The term can describe a powerful geopolitical and military force, or, in business, a powerful corporate entity that has such a large majority percentage of whatever market they compete within that they can use that strength to crush would-be competitors.
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