Well, I guess the 'odds' in 'overcome the odds' means kind of 'diffculties'. But I cannot find such kind of explaining in dictionary (oxford dict online) nor in "Practical Everyday English (by Steven Collins)". The closest explaining, seem to me, is 'The chances, probalility of winning, being successful'. But then it doesn't explain well for the following sentence (from "BBC Life Story")

Animals have just one goal at the end of this journey, to leave offspring, and everyone begins its life with an irrepressible instinct to survive and overcome the odds.

What does 'odds' mean here?

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    Odds: difficulties which make a good result seem very unlikely. Overcome the odds (=succeed although there are great difficulties): ldoceonline.com/dictionary/odds – user66974 Mar 23 '16 at 15:20
  • The odds were against the animals, meaning the "chances, probability of winning, being successful" were low, and despite that, they overcame, and succeeded in the face of those odds. – Dan Bron Mar 23 '16 at 15:21
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    @shintaroid - The Oxford dictionary online gives this definition of odds: "The chances or likelihood of something happening or being the case" What was it that was still confusing to you? Thanks. – anongoodnurse Mar 23 '16 at 15:24
  • @medica - Yes, I did look it up in a dictionary....and did find an answer :) – user66974 Mar 23 '16 at 15:26
  • @Josh61 - Haha! Well, clearly you did. I've amended my comment. :) – anongoodnurse Mar 23 '16 at 15:28

Odds is a reference to the probability of failure (or success). It's generally a betting term. If you are highly unlikely to achieve something, the odds are said to be against you. If you succeed nevertheless, you have overcome the odds.

Note that although the term is most closely associated with gambling, a bet does not have to be made for odds to exist. For instance, if there is very little chance of rain today, the odds are against it raining whether or not you make a bet!

  • Thank you! Now I know what 'odds against you' mean \ (^ ^) / – shintaroid Mar 23 '16 at 15:50

In gambling games, there are payoffs associated with different bets that one could take. For example, in roulette, the house would pay $1 for every $1 bet on red, and the odds are 1:1. In the same roulette game, the house would pay $35 for every $1 bet on a single number, say green 0.

A similar notion of odds exist for horse racing, poker, and football (on either side of the pond).

PokerZone defines long odds as "An especially low chance of occurring; unlikelihood."

The animals in the BBC story are figuratively overcoming the long odds, that is, they are producing offspring despite the unlikelihood. There is no house or bookie making the odds; however, the environment is probably harsh and reducing the likelihood of reproduction.

  • Thank you very much! I guess 'odds' is deeply related with gambling. – shintaroid Mar 23 '16 at 15:52
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    You are welcome. You may have heard about a popular book series, the Hunger Games. Here is a phrase spoken to the young candidates: "May the odds be ever in your favor." The odds were against almost all candidates, as only 1 of 23 would survive the fight to the death. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, was able to overcome the odds (by surviving). – rajah9 Mar 23 '16 at 19:51

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