There’s bigger fish to fry: talking about things that are not important

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

three whole fish cooking in a frying pan set over a campfire
Westend61 / GettyImages

by Liz Walter

I have recently written two posts on the topic of importance, so this one looks at the opposite: how to say that something isn’t important.

A very common way of showing that something is unimportant is to say that it doesn’t matter. This often implies that the thing you are talking about will not have any effect on anyone or anything else:

It doesn’t matter if you’re late because we have plenty of time.

Phrases such as Who cares?, I don’t care, or nobody cares are common and emphatic ways of saying that you don’t think that something is important. We might also say that we don’t give/care a damn or that something is no big deal/not a big deal:

‘I think we’ve upset Marion.’ ‘Who cares? She’s always being rude to us.’

He decided to move to Mexico and he didn’t give a damn about what his family thought.

I got fired but it’s not a big deal because I can easily get another job.

More formally, words such as trivial or petty indicate that something has little value or importance.  Minor is a common word that is often used in contexts where it contrasts with more serious or major things of the same type:

Her boss would reprimand her, even for very trivial mistakes.

Most of the cases involved relatively petty crimes.

My assistant can deal with any minor problems.

Something that has little or no effect on other things can be described as insignificant or, more formally, inconsequential:

Tourism plays a relatively insignificant role in the area’s economy.

They wasted time arguing over inconsequential details.

We use the rather formal adjectives peripheral or immaterial to say that something is unimportant because it is not relevant or central to the issue in question. Similarly, but more informally, we can say that something is beside the point or neither here nor there:

Her research was of peripheral interest to my own studies.

Whether or not she read the contract is immaterial to its legal status.

The paintings are valuable because of the artist – their quality is beside the point.

He’s perfect for the job and the fact that he’s my brother is neither here nor there.

I will finish with a nice idiom. If someone says they have bigger/other fish to fry, they mean that they have something more important to do or deal with:

The police weren’t interested in my stolen bike – they had bigger fish to fry.

If you can think of any other useful words or phrases connected with this topic, do put them in the comments!

17 thoughts on “There’s bigger fish to fry: talking about things that are not important

    1. Liz Walter

      Gosh, that’s an interesting point. I didn’t even think about that when I wrote it because ‘there’s’ just came naturally. A google search also shows way more uses of ‘there’s’ than ‘there are’, but I understand why you are asking this, and at the moment I can’t explain it. Will try to think about it some more – if anyone knows the answer, please help!

      1. Liz Walter

        Thinking about this more, we do often use ‘there’s’ + plural in speech, probably because ‘there are’ and particularly ‘there’re’ are harder to pronounce. For instance, you often hear things like ‘There’s lots of people who think ….’ or ‘There’s lots of different options for ….’. I wouldn’t recommend doing this in an exam, but it does sounds correct in the fish phrase especially since idioms tend to have a more fixed form and this one probably started as a more spoken than written phrase. Hope that makes sense!

  1. Mauricio González

    What about the word ‘irrelevant’? For instance: The evidence you’ve presented is irrelevant for the case.

  2. Tania E.

    Many thanks for this post! Depending on the context we can also say ‘It’s water under the bridge’ and a timeless classic ‘It’s much ado about nothing’:)

  3. Denis

    Thumbs up as usual.
    I’d really like to add a few more exspressions:
    ‘It’s not the end of the world’ (it’s not the worst thing that could happen), ‘I couldn’t care less’ (used to emphasize, usually rudely, that you are not interested in or worried about something or someone), ‘I don’t give two hoots about it’ (I don’t care about it at all), and my favourite one – ‘not give a monkey’s’ (if you don’t/couldn’t give a monkey’s about something, you are not at all worried by it).

    Best wishes

  4. I have the hots for Britt Ekland

    Another way to describe something not as important as something else is “small potatoes”.

  5. A big THANK YOU for creating these interesting posts. I came across “the language about acceptance” and then read the three posts about importance/unimportance. I must say the attached recording is a real bonus and I love it. It is really helpful for readers who want to remember those idioms but skip re-reading, and your voice is really pleasant to the ears.

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