small beer/small potatoes

small beer/small potatoes

Something trivial or unimportant. Literally, “small beer” is the British name for beer of low alcohol content, today more often called “light beer.” As a metaphor it was already being used in Shakespeare’s time, and Shakespeare himself used it in several plays (Henry IV, Part 2; Othello). It is heard more in Britain than in America, where small potatoes, likening a poor crop to something of little worth or importance, dates from the early nineteenth century. David Crockett used it in Exploits and Adventures in Texas (1836): “This is what I call small potatoes and few of a hill.” More picturesquely, D. G. Paige wrote, “Political foes are such very small potatoes that they will hardly pay for skinning” (Dow’s Patent Sermons, ca. 1849).
See also: beer, potato, small
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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