Tip of the iceberg

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Tip of the iceberg is an idiom that was first seen in the mid-twentieth century. 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)