Tip of the iceberg

Tip of the iceberg is an idiom that was first seen in the mid-twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom tip of the iceberg, where it may have come from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The tip of the iceberg is a small hint of a problem, the first, most noticeable portion of a much larger problem, or the most obvious sign of a complex impending situation. The figurative iceberg, in this idiom, is a problem or negative situation. The tip of this iceberg is the part that is above the figurative ocean or the part of the problem that can be easily recognized. It is a fact that the 90 percent of the mass of a naturally occurring iceberg is below the surface of the ocean, only 10 percent or the tip of the iceberg is visible above the surface of the ocean. The idiom tip of the iceberg came into use in the 1960s and is only used to refer to something negative, such as a problem that is much bigger than it first appears.


“It could be the tip of the iceberg and investigation could lead to the illicit trade thriving in the underbelly of the city,” CTF ACP Mahendra Mathe says. (The Hindu)

A wildlife investigator has claimed that the numbers of reported crimes against protected birds in Scotland are merely the “tip of an iceberg”. (The Press and Journal)

Recent abrupt gyrations in financial markets could be the “tip of the iceberg”, according to a top International Monetary Fund official. (The Financial Times)

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