What Does The Tipping Point Mean?

The Tipping Point Meaning

Definition: The moment or factor that causes a situation to gain momentum quickly; the time when a significant or unstoppable change occurs.

Origin of the Tipping Point

To best understand the definition of this idiom, it helps to think of the literal meaning, which is related to physics. In physics, the tipping point is when an object becomes unbalanced, and even a slight force can cause it to topple over.

For example, imagine a cup resting on a table. The cup is in no danger of falling if it is flat and centered on the table. However, if someone pushes it slightly over the edge of the table, it will fall more easily. By the time the cup is almost halfway over the edge, even a very small nudge will cause it to tip off the table and fall to the floor.

This is similar to the figurative use of this expression. An idea or movement might move slowly at first. However, as more and more people begin to support it, it reaches a point where even slightly more support will cause it to quickly expand.

Another analogy can be found in a separate phrase to tip the scales in favor or against. This expression has been around at least as long as Aristotle’s Politics from 340 B.C.

  • The addition of the middle class turns the scale and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant.

The specific wording tipping point appears to have gained popularity in the mid-1900s and shot up drastically around the year 2000 when Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book by this name.

However, the specific expression existed as far back as the 1800s in this specific form: tipping point.

Examples of the Tipping Point

tipping point definitionIn the first example, two employees are talking together about all the people who have quit their jobs at the company recently.

Marcus: Did you hear that several of the top bosses quit?

Patsy: Yes! And a lot of middle management has quit as well.

Marcus: This company had better do something soon to stop all of the top talent from leaving. If they don’t act quickly, this company will reach a tipping point from which it will never recover.

what is a tipping pointIn the second example, a husband and wife are having a fight.

Donny: I’m so sorry! I know I shouldn’t have done that, but honestly I think you are overreacting.

Alison: I’m not upset because of what you did this time. I’m upset because of the accumulation of things you’ve been doing over the past year. This last incident was merely the tipping point. I think we should get a divorce.

More Examples

This quote explains why many people who abuse or harass others face multiple allegations from different victims all at once.

  • “Many women are not willing to suffer in silence anymore,” Allred said in an interview. “They’ve reached their tipping point. And then one comes out, and then two, and it does encourage others — they feel safer in numbers.” –Denver Post

This excerpt is from how one actor got a role that made him famous.

  • By his mid-30s, Pascal, who studied acting at New York University, was finally gaining steam with recurring parts in “The Good Wife” and “Brothers & Sisters.” But the real tipping point arrived when Pascal was cast as sexually voracious swordsman Oberyn Martell in Season 4 of “Game of Thrones,” a part he found out about when a young actor he was mentoring auditioned for it. –LA Times


The expression tipping point means a critical event that causes a big and usually irrevocable change.