Did someone say that they have 'bigger fish to fry,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
‘Bigger fish to fry’ is:
If someone says that they have ‘bigger fish to fry,’ it usually means:
“I can’t talk about this right now, and I have ‘bigger fish to fry!’”
Some sources state that ‘bigger fish to fry’ dates all the way back to 1660 in England, first used by John Evelyn in his work “Memoirs.” In this work, the phrase ‘other fish to fry’ is used. This same phrasing appears in the Don Quixote translation by Peter Moteuix from the 1700s.
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'bigger fish to fry’ we see that this idiom really started picking up steam in the early to the mid-20th century.
One of the earliest examples we can find using this tool is from 1900 in True to Himself: Or, Roger Strong’s Struggle for Place:
“If Duncan was amazed at this speech, so was I. The merchant taking my part? What did it mean?
‘Why, I– I–’ began Duncan, but he could really get no further.
‘No explanation is necessary,’ interrupted his father, coolly.
‘Strong, please step in, will you?’
‘Yes, sir,’ and I suited the action to the word.
As I did so Duncan passed on to the front door.
‘I’ll get even with you yet, you cad!’ he muttered under his breath; but I paid no attention to his words. I had “bigger fish to fry.””
In a 1922 publication entitled Motorcycle Illustrated, Volume 18, we find a great example of the idiom in use:
He was always remarking casually that he didn’t expect to have to be in the bizness long, for he had bigger fish to fry in the form of gold mines an’ trolly companies an’ oil wells an’ apartment house holding an’ all the rest.”
A later example can be found in U.S. hearings before the Subcommittee on the Far East and the Pacific of the Committee on Foreign Affairs from late January and early February of 1966:
“The Soviet interest is against that, and they see it that way. They have other bigger fish to fry, bigger stakes, in places like Berlin and Germany. They don’t want a war in southeast Asia.”
How would 'bigger fish to fry' be used in a sentence?
Let’s take a look at some examples:
When someone says that they have ‘bigger fish to fry,’ they are implying that they have more important or interesting things to do than deal with whatever is currently being discussed.
For example, if your friend is telling you about their relationship problems when you’re trying to get your taxes done, you might say:
“I can’t talk about this right now; I have ‘bigger fish to fry’!”
It’s worth understanding that using the phrase in this way could come off as a bit insulting to the person that you are speaking with if you aren’t careful. That being said, it is a well-known idiom that is still widely used in contemporary speech. You should be able to expect that most English speakers will be familiar with the phrase.
Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!
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