tip of the iceberg

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the tip of the iceberg

Only a small, often unrepresentative portion of something much larger or more complex that cannot yet be seen or understood. If Congress doesn't vote to extend the debt limit, a government shutdown will be just the tip of the iceberg. The flooding is bad, but we're dealing with just the tip of the iceberg: a huge spate of environmental disasters are on the horizon because of climate change.
See also: iceberg, of, tip

tip of the iceberg

Fig. only the part of something that can be easily observed, but not the rest of it, which is hidden. (Referring to the fact that the majority of an iceberg is below the surface of the water.) The problems that you see here now are just the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous disasters waiting to happen.
See also: iceberg, of, tip

tip of the iceberg

Superficial evidence of a much larger problem, as in Laying off a hundred workers is only the tip of the iceberg. This idiom alludes to the structure of an iceberg, most of whose bulk lies underwater. [Mid-1900s]
See also: iceberg, of, tip

the tip of the iceberg

or

the tip of an iceberg

COMMON
1. If something is the tip of the iceberg or the tip of an iceberg, it is a small part of a very large problem or a very serious situation. We get about 2,000 complaints every year and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Figures show that there have been 700 official burglaries throughout the area, but police believe this is the tip of the iceberg.
2. If something is the tip of the iceberg or the tip of an iceberg, it is a small part of something large. These surveys are only the tip of an iceberg of continuing study. Note: People often use an adjective before iceberg to show what sort of thing it is. These songs are just the tip of the creative iceberg. Note: Only a very small part of an iceberg is visible above the water. About nine-tenths of it is below the surface.
See also: iceberg, of, tip

tip of the iceberg

A small evident part or aspect of something largely hidden.
See also: iceberg, of, tip