Small potatoes

Small potatoes is an idiom that has been in use for quite some time. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expression small potatoes, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The term small potatoes refers to someone or something that is insignificant or unimportant, someone or something that is petty or inconsequential. Synonyms for small potatoes that may be found in a thesaurus are trivial, minor, worthless. The term small potatoes came into use in America in the early 1800s, though a similar phrase may be found in a letter written by Taylor Coleridge, “little potatoes”, which Coleridge defined as “…no great things, a compost of nullity and dullity.” Today, the term small potatoes is often used in a dismissive way when discussing a very small business or a person who believes that he is more important than he is. Small potatoes may be considered a insult. Note that the plural of potato is potatoes, spelled with an added es.


“In the end, obstruction could be small potatoes compared to the possibility of a foreign adversary having leverage over the president of the United States.” (The Hill)

Having endured all this by the time he got to high school, the challenges of being an undersized jumper seemed like small potatoes. (The West Fargo Pioneer)

“It really shows this 2018 bill is small potatoes in regard to where we need to be,” said Natalie Veldhouse, Iowa Policy Project research associate. (Neighbors Newspapers)

The article ends with Mr. Hurley quoted as saying, “This is small potatoes.” (Adirondack Daily Enterprise)

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