What Are The Odds: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
May 8, 2023

"What are the odds" is a popular idiom often used to express surprise or disbelief about a situation or event. It is typically used when the occurrence of an event is highly unlikely or coincidental.

In short:

"What are the odds" means the speaker is surprised by an unlikely or coincidental event.

What Does "What Are the Odds" Mean?

The idiom "what are the odds" conveys that the speaker finds a particular situation or event highly unlikely or coincidental. It is often employed when people are faced with an unexpected event, a surprising coincidence, or something that seems almost too good to be true.

  • Used to express surprise or disbelief
  • Refers to unlikely or coincidental occurrences

The speaker can use the phrase in a lighthearted manner, but it can also convey genuine disbelief or amazement at a situation.

Where Does "What Are the Odds" Come From?

The earliest recorded uses of the phrase "what are the odds" date back to the 18th century. It originates from gambling, where 'odds' refer to the likelihood of an event as suggested by the ratio of the probability of success or failure. Asking "What are the odds" was a way to express the unlikeliness of a particular outcome or eventuality.

Historical Examples

"What are the odds that a younger hand takes in two certain cards?" —A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, Edmond Hoyle, 1748

"What are the odds that after a certain number of experiments have been made concerning the happening or failing of events, the cccidents of contingency will not afterwards vary from those of obserrvation..." —The Doctrine of Chances, Abraham de Moivre, 1718

10 Examples of "What Are the Odds" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom used in various contexts:

  • We posted a glow-up photo the same day – what are the odds?
  • What are the odds that we both wore the same outfit to the party?
  • We both applied for the same job without knowing it – what are the odds?
  • What are the odds that we are rooting for the same football team?
  • My new neighbor is someone I went to college with – what are the odds?
  • I found a $20 bill on the ground just when I needed it – what are the odds?
  • We both brought the same dish to the potluck – what are the odds?
  • What are the odds that someone with a burner account would actually admit their true identity online?
  • My long-lost cousin ended up being my coworker – what are the odds?
  • What are the odds that the bank will be able to recover the full loan amount from the repoed property?

Examples of "What Are the Odds" in Pop Culture

People commonly use the phrase in movies, television shows, and literature to convey surprise or disbelief about an unlikely or coincidental event.

Some examples include:

  • "I was thinking the exact same thing. What are the odds?" —Jane, Predestination (2014)
  • "What are the odds that this is that someone?" —CSI: Miami (2002-2012)
  • "What Are the Odds? The Calculus of Coincidence" is a 2019 thriller book by Robert A. Hilliard.

Other/Different Ways to Say "What Are the Odds"

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "What are the odds."

Some of these include:

  • What a coincidence!
  • How unlikely is that?
  • Can you believe it?
  • Isn't that something?
  • How random!
  • Small world, isn't it?
  • It's a small world, after all.

One can use these alternatives interchangeably, depending on the context and the level of surprise or disbelief the speaker intends to convey.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "What Are the Odds"

  • Is "what are the odds" a formal expression?

"What are the odds" is a colloquial expression and may not be considered formal, but it can be used in both casual and semi-formal settings.

  • Can people use "what are the odds" sarcastically?

Yes, depending on the tone and context, the phrase can be used sarcastically to express amusement or irony.

  • Is the phrase appropriate for professional settings?

"What are the odds" may be used in professional settings, but it is generally more appropriate for casual conversations or less formal situations.

  • Can people use the phrase in written communication?

People can use "what are the odds" in emails, text messages, or other written communication to express surprise or disbelief at a coincidence.

  • How to use "what are the odds" in a sentence?

Use the phrase to express the unlikelihood of a certain event happening to express a sense of amazement. For example: 'What are the odds that we like the same coffee shop?"

  • Can strangers use the phrase "What are the odds"?

Strangers can use "what are the odds" to express surprise or disbelief about a coincidental event or situation they both experience.

  • Is it okay to use the phrase when describing a negative situation?

Yes, "what are the odds" can be used to express surprise or disbelief about both positive and negative situations, as long as the focus is on the improbability or coincidence of the event.

  • What's the difference between "what are the odds" and "what a coincidence"?

Both phrases are used to express surprise at an unlikely or coincidental event, but "what are the odds" focuses more on the improbability of the event, while "what a coincidence" highlights the unexpectedness of the situation.

  • Can one use the phrase to describe highly probable events?

Using "what are the odds" for highly probable events may come across as ironic or sarcastic, as the phrase is typically used to express surprise at unlikely or coincidental occurrences.

  • Is the phrase commonly used in pop culture?

Yes, "what are the odds" is a popular phrase in movies, television shows, and literature, as it effectively conveys surprise or disbelief about coincidental events or situations.

Final Thoughts About "What Are The Odds"

As a final point, "What are the odds" is a relatable expression that captures a sense of amazement at coincidences or unexpected events. This idiom works well in a range of settings, from laid-back chats to more formal conversations.

Key aspects of "What are the odds":

  • Used to express surprise, disbelief, or unlikelihood of an event
  • Commonly employed in casual conversation and pop culture
  • Originates from gambling terminology, referring to the probability of an event

Remembering to use it appropriately and understanding its meaning can enrich your English language skills and help you communicate more effectively. Like all idioms, using it in the right context is crucial to add color and expressiveness to your communication.

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