What is a word or phrase that means a person or thing which is quite small yet capable of having big influence and impact on society?

marked as duplicate by anongoodnurse, ermanen single-word-requests Mar 26 '15 at 17:01

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  • You need to tell us more if you want the right word, as per single word requests guidelines. – anongoodnurse Mar 26 '15 at 15:27
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    For a phrase, it could be casting a long shadow. – Matthew Read Mar 26 '15 at 15:49
  • @MatthewRead I think casting a long shadow nails the request for some"thing like "He may be small, but he casts a long shadow." You should make that an answer (with some supporting documentation). – Canis Lupus Mar 26 '15 at 16:55
  • OP requests the single word, I don`t have any. but in case it could be usefull, there are idioms, that represent this meaning. Gutta cavat lapidem (Latin for The drop excavates the stone), One spoonful of tar spoils a barrel of honey (not that close) – Aeternia Mar 26 '15 at 17:28

Small thing: a certain catalyst for social development

Catalysis is the increase in the rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of an additional substance called a catalyst. With a catalyst, reactions occur faster and with less energy. Because catalysts are not consumed, they are recycled. Often only tiny amounts are required.


E.g., in context:

Critical Strategies for Social Research - Page 278 William K. Carroll - 2004

... and Leslie Brown, who, in our third reading, introduce community action research (CAR) as a value-based approach to research that strives to promote individual self-discovery, to build communities, and to act as a catalyst for social change.

And, of course, lever.

Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945–1965 Linda Eisenmann - 2010

Third was a new awareness of education as potential [ly] a lever for social change.

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    Good one! Accurate and applicable to people and things. – anongoodnurse Mar 26 '15 at 15:57
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    Just my thoughts, but the point of catalysts is that they are not doing anything themselves. For example if I understand the contextual quote correctly the idea is that the research itself doesn't change anything, but that it empowers those that will cause the social change. – David Mulder Mar 26 '15 at 16:40
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    @DavidMulder - while this may be true in chemistry/biochemistry, that is not how the word is understood in general. A single person can be a catalyst for great change: "Dr. King was a catalyst for transformative societal changes." - pcc.edu – anongoodnurse Mar 26 '15 at 17:03


David was a young shepherd with a sling and 5 smooth stones who pitted himself against a gigantic Philistine who was fully armed for battle. Yet he brought the giant down with one stone (saving the others for the giant's brothers.)

  • But we've known O'Brien is a fighter since back in the day, when he was the David to Jay Leno's Goliath. [Boston Globe]
  • Apple, for a long time, was the David to Microsoft’s Goliath. ...It was the iPod that first signaled a change in this arrangement. At the close of Wednesday’s trading, Apple was valued at $222 billion, while Microsoft was worth $219 billion....

If it's a scenario like the above, it will be understood.

  • That's what I was thinking...or for full analogy..."a David vs. Goliath" scenario. – Kristina Lopez Mar 26 '15 at 16:05
  • 'David' is certainly an example of 'a thing which is small yet has a big influence on the giant', but is the word 'David' a commonly recognised noun for such a thing? – Marv Mills Mar 26 '15 at 16:29
  • @MarvMills When properly used? Definitely. And otherwise it might need more contextualization for example using the full analogy as proposed by Kristina. – David Mulder Mar 26 '15 at 16:38
  • @DavidMulder - I agree that it needs to be put into context to make sense to the reader. – tom Mar 26 '15 at 16:50
  • my first thought it was. but one has to make an expression of it, to make the reference to certain biblical story more clear, i guess. i see @tom shared the same opinion – Aeternia Mar 26 '15 at 17:01

I don't think one word can convey all of the meaning you want. - 'Small, but effective' - or something that 'punches above its weight' or 'disproportionately significant' or 'hugely influential' or 'surprisingly important' or 'unexpectedly significant' or 'trend-setting' - hope these expressions may be useful.

Another overused expression that might be useful if 'game-changer'.




1.0 (Of a work, event, moment, or figure) strongly influencing later developments:

2.0 Of, relating to, or denoting semen.

2.1 Botany Of, relating to, or derived from the seed of a plant.


The meaning of seminal is big influence, the connotation is small.

With just ten sentences uttered over a mere two-and-a-half minutes, Abraham Lincoln delivered his seminal Gettysburg Address that continues to shape politics into the twenty-first century.

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