"small thing" and "over the edge"

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In these countries, 1.4 million children face death because they're severely malnourished — which means a small thing, an infection, diarrhea, would tip them over the edge and allow them to die.

What do "small thing" and "over the edge" mean in this context ?
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  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Hello, happyapplerice! Welcome to the forum!

    The quote gives examples of "small thing" right after the word: "an infection, diarrhea". These are "minor" illnesses that anyone can get.

    If a healthy child, with plenty to eat, gets a "minor" problem, their body fights off the problem and heals itself in hours or a couple days.

    But the body of a severely malnourished child is already weak and sick. The internal systems that "fight off infections" are functioning very poorly, or not functioning. So the infection does not heal -- it gets worse and they die.

    The idea of "tipping over the edge" is that they are "already close to dead". It uses the metaphor of distance: healthy is "far from death", very unhealthy is "close to the edge of death". Even a small worsening of their health "moves" them past that edge.


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Think of life as having a cliff. If you are on the edge of a cliff, one small step can send you over the edge. At the bottom, is death. You can be close to the edge but not dead. Once you go over the edge, you fall, and you can't come back.
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