Did I use this idiom incorrectly?

I'll never forget seeing your beautiful face, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of what makes you a one-of-a-kind beauty.

It's for an English paper. Apparently, it's commonly used when there's a problem, or something negative.

  • 2
    It's a little odd to use it to describe someone's beauty, but the usage is not incorrect. The term does not carry a negative or positive connotation per se, though it's probably more often used in a negative context.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 23:23
  • Perhaps you're searching for 'icing on the cake'? Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 23:26
  • It does come over as slightly indelicate to me. But the problem with that sentence structure is that whatever metaphor you use, you will have to diminish the persons "beautiful face". And that can't be a good thing to do. I think I'd settle for I'll never forget seeing your beautiful face and noting all the other wonderful things about you. But it is all too fulsome for me.
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 23:31
  • You, of course, need to understand the meaning: nine-tenths of an iceberg is under water, so "the tip of the iceberg" means that only a small part off the thing being described is directly observable.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 23:44
  • 1
    @WS2: It sounds like she has the kind of a face that could sink a thousand ships ;^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


Yes, I'd say it's incorrect.

While it is true to say that, figuratively, the 'tip of the iceberg' is the part of something that can be easily observed while the rest of it is hidden, it is also usually the case that the 'rest of it', which you cannot see, is bad. The tip of an iceberg typically signals a menacing monstrosity below.

Something of which the greater part is unknown or unrecognized. Chiefly in the tip of the (also an) iceberg: the smaller, perceptible part of something (esp. a difficulty) which is evidently much larger (OED).

The problems that you see here now are just the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous disasters waiting to happen.(http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/tip+of+the+iceberg)

a ​small, ​noticeable ​part of a ​problem, the ​total ​size of which is really much ​greater - http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tip-of-the-iceberg

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Our problems can become much worse. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tip_of_the_iceberg

The phrase “tip of the iceberg” is used to refer to a situation in which you or someone else is seeing only a small part of what is really a bigger problem. So, the iceberg is used to refer to the fact that there is a very big problem, and the “tip” is a small part of that iceberg, or a small part of the bigger problem. The phrase has a negative meaning to it – and is usually used to describe situations or people that are difficult.http://www.programmerinterview.com/index.php/american-vocabulary/what-does-tip-of-the-iceberg-mean/

that phrase usually means that there's a lot worse beneath the surface or that you don't know about...https://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090508141814AAQ9WEu

a problem or difficult situation that shows that a much more serious problem exists http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/just-the-tip-of-the-iceberg

  • So it does carry a negative connotation. Though, I suppose further context is needed.
    – dendritic
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 23:53
  • Looking at uses via Ngram I see many that use the phrase in a neutral or positive fashion. Eg, The mirror-like quality of many new Latin American novels owes much to these essayists and to their exploration of our reality. In conclusion: The new Latin American novel ought to be seen as the tip of the iceberg of Latin American letters. Or Turns out that that trip was but the tip of the iceberg. They followed that one up with a junket to far Australia! In Sydney. Or Written texts are, after all, merely the tip of the iceberg that comprises the whole of Germanic tradition.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 0:13
  • @HotLicks - I think your first instinct (comment) was right (..."it's probably more often used in a negative context."). Please post an answer explaining your enthusiasm for the positive meaning.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 0:33
  • 1
    @dendritic - although it is not wrong to say what you have said, it does make your complementing of their hidden charms curiously 'backhanded' - are they really delightful or are they, actually, something to be wary of (which may, of course be alluring!). If I wanted to sing someone's praises I would find other words.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 1:08

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