Now, the odds that the first leads to the second--astronomical.

The line is cited from Elementary, an American drama series.

Based on my understanding of the plot and the Chinese subtitles, it means the odds are extremely low.

My question is, when we say the costs are astronomical, it suppose to mean the costs are very high, isn't it? If it is, why does astronomical in the aforementioned line means the odds are very low?

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    You have to interpret astronomical in context. It means something like "of very great magnitude". Technically maybe the line should have been "the odds against the first leading to the second", but from context, it's clear that "astronomical" refers to the magnitude of something like "ten million to one".
    – stangdon
    Dec 9, 2016 at 12:20
  • Opinions seem to be divided on this usage, but in your context (Elementary, season 1, episode 18), I think it means the odds are extremely high, which in other words means that it's unlikely. This article should be useful: Language Log » "The odds of X are large": likely or unlikely? Dec 9, 2016 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


The universe is vast. Its vastness can be used figuratively to describe an extremely large quantity. Its vastness can also be used in a more circuitous manner to describe an extremely small possibility, analogous to the proverbial needle in the haystack. The odds of finding that needle amid all that hay are astronomical because what you are looking for in that very large pile of hay is something very tiny. Planet Earth, indeed the Milky Way galaxy, are mere needles in the astronomical haystack.

The odds are astronomical in their proportion.

  • Do you mean that when talking about costs,astronomical means a large number, when talking about odds, the opposite ? Dec 9, 2016 at 12:30
  • By the opposite, I mean finding needle in the haystack. Dec 9, 2016 at 12:34
  • The core implicit idea of astronomical is that the thing described is astronomical in its proportion. Proportion always involves things of two sizes, right? One of the sizes is portrayed as the smaller of the two, and the other as the larger of the two. When something is astronomical in proportion, it is either infinitely large or infinitely small. It depends on which side of the telescope you happen to be looking through, so to speak. It is the scale of the difference which matters. Dec 9, 2016 at 12:52
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    @JasmineKuo Betting (gambling) odds are a little strange. A low-probability event is said to have high "odds", since the winnings are larger than the money staked. Conversely, a high-probability event (like a favourite winning) will have low "odds". See here, for example.
    – Mick
    Dec 9, 2016 at 12:56
  • The core idea here is scale, @Mick. When the yardstick is infinite, even a mile stretch along it is very tiny in proportion. Odds of one in ten trillion could be described as astronomical in that sense. The adjective refers to the scale of the odds. Dec 9, 2016 at 12:56

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