What does the idiom "A snowball effect" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase A snowball effect, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression A snowball effect used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "A snowball effect"


The phrase “snowball effect” is used to describe a situation in which a small occurrence or action causes similar occurrences or actions to follow, leading to a larger and larger impact. The phrase is used to describe a situation that is self-perpetuating and has a “snowballing” result.


The phrase “snowball effect” originated in the 18th century, when it was used to describe the phenomenon of a snowball growing larger as it rolls downhill. This image was used to illustrate and describe the concept of a situation that begins small but increases in scope and size as time passes and events unfold.


The phrase “snowball effect” is typically used in a negative context and is usually associated with a situation that is chaotic or out of control. It is also often used to describe a situation which has the potential to spiral out of control if not addressed. For example, if a company endures a minor safety violation and fails to address it, the ramifications of this violation can grow and snowball into something bigger and result in serious financial and legal repercussions.

The phrase can also be used in a positive context, to describe a situation in which a positive event or action leads to positive outcomes. For example, a small act of kindness may lead to more acts of kindness, which eventually snowball into a larger, more meaningful movement.

Example Sentences

  • The failure to address the issue quickly caused a snowball effect, leading to significant complications and delays.
  • The small act of kindness eventually snowballed into a larger movement of positivity and compassion.
  • The increase in popularity had a snowball effect, and soon everyone was talking about the product.

The meanings of the words in the "A snowball effect" idiom

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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