‘Bigger Fish to Fry’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on April 4, 2023

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:

  • This means that a person has more pressing issues to deal with or more interesting things to attend to.

What Does 'Bigger Fish to Fry' Mean?

If someone says that they have ‘bigger fish to fry,’ it usually means:

  • That they have a more important, interesting, or pressing thing to attend to.
  • It can also be used to refer to a higher-valued target to reach or result.

For example, let’s say that you are dealing with a crisis at work, and your sister keeps calling you to talk about what you want to eat for dinner. In that scenario, you might say:

“I can’t talk about this right now, and I have ‘bigger fish to fry!’”

Where Does 'Bigger Fish to Fry' Come From?

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.

Examples of 'Bigger Fish to Fry' In Sentences

How would 'bigger fish to fry' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “I know that John is lonely right now, and I really do want to go visit him. The truth is that I just have bigger fish to fry and can’t be in the business of keeping people company.”
  • “No, I’m not upset about losing my jewelry. I’ve got way bigger fish to fry right now.”
  • “My boss is the bane of my existence. He walks around like he has bigger fish to fry, but if that was true, wouldn’t he have found a better job by now?”
  • “I never get upset when I’m stuck in traffic. I’d learned that there are always bigger fish to fry than worrying about little inconveniences.”
  • “You can tell that Sally has a bad case of senioritis. I have to practically force her to go to high school in the morning. She obviously thinks that there are bigger fish to fry, but that won’t be the case if she doesn’t graduate.”
  • “It’s time for us to really start marketing our business and bringing in new clients. There’s no reason to be struggling financially. There are bigger fish to fry out there, and we just have to go catch them.”
  • “I really am looking forward to talking to you later on, but I have to go right now. I don’t want to sound rude, but I frankly have bigger fish to fry.”
  • “Why are you acting so weird right now? It doesn't even matter; I don’t even have time to care. Right now, I have bigger fish to fry.”

Final Thoughts About 'Bigger Fish to Fry'

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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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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