It's A Small World

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Also: What a Small World

Meaning of Idiom 'It's a Small World'

This idiom's abstract meaning is expressed better in its usage, but it essentially means that although the world seems so vast, we still meet the same people in the most unexpected places. Usually, "it's a small world" is used to express surprise at seeing someone we know or discovering a personal connection with someone in a far away or unexpected place. It's a small world basically means that the world is much smaller than it seems. 1,2


Here are two scenarios in which the idiom might be used.

Tom, from a small town in Iowa, decides to go on a vacation to the ice hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, quite a remote and unusual place to go for a getaway! When he arrives at the hotel, he is surprised and delighted to see none other than Mr. Bently, his old high-school English teacher, who also decided to visit the hotel at the same time. "It's a small world!" said Tom.

Sara had lived in New York for two years. Early on, she became good friends with her work mate, Liz. The two quickly became inseparable, spending much of their time away from work with each other. Yet, they were so busy having fun they didn't realize how much they had in common. One day, Liz begins to describe the street she grew up on to Sara. Sara quickly begins to realize that this street seems eerily familiar. "Wait, where are you from, Liz?" It turns out that Liz is not only from the same town as Sara, they both grew up on the same street, a couple of blocks from each other! Yet, they never even met until they both moved to New York. "What a small world!" they both say in unison.

Of course, these scenarios are quite extreme. The idiom is also used in more ordinary contexts.

Examples of Use

"You'll never guess who I saw at Samantha's ballet class today. Coach Johnson my old P.E. teacher. It's really a small world."

"I never expected to see you here. I thought you lived in another state now. What a small world."


Used since around 1900. 2

1. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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