“Bigger fish to fry” is often used to suggest that one is wasting their time on one task when they could be doing something far more interesting or important. Depending on how one uses it, it can come across as hateful, or humorous and exasperated. This idiom does not have a defined origin, but its first use in writing, at least that scholars are aware of, dates to the 1600s.
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Meaning of “Bigger fish to fry”
“Bigger fish to fry” is a clever idiom that suggests someone has more important things to do than whatever it is they’re engaged in at that moment. The “more important thing” could be anything at all. Sometimes the phrase is used to suggest that someone has something more important to do but really just wants to escape the conversation or location they’re in. The literal meaning of the phrase says that someone is in possession of a fish that’s larger and worth their time to cook, in comparison to others they might be offered. But, the phrase is very rarely used to actually refer to cooking.
When To Use “Bigger fish to fry”
“Bigger fish to fry” can be used in a wide variety of situations but is best spoken in among friends, family members, and close colleagues. This is due to the fact that it can be easily misinterpreted. It is possible to offend someone when using this idiom. It suggests that the user doesn’t value the task they’re engaged in, the argument they’re having, or the person they’re with as much as they do the other “more important thing.”
If one uses the idiom as it’s meant to be used among friends then they are less likely to be offended by it. They will understand if one uses it sarcastically or as a way of overstating the importance of the next thing they have to do.
Example Sentences With “Bigger fish to fry”
- The cop told me that the only reason he ran past the shoplifter is that he was chasing a murder. He had much bigger fish to fry.
- No, I can’t stay after work and help you deal with your problems. I have bigger fish to fry in my own life.
- We’re incredibly busy all the time and still, we always find out that there are bigger fish to fry.
- We have bigger fish to fry! You have to stop worrying about all these tiny details.
- As soon as she stops pestering me about what we’re doing this weekend we can move on. We have much bigger fish to fry than she realizes.
Why Do Writers Use “Bigger fish to fry?”
Writers use the idiom “bigger fish to fry” in the same way and for the same reasons that it is used in everyday speech. The phrase can be applied to a wide variety of situations on paper just as it can in reality. It’s easy to imagine one character sneering at another, suggesting that they have more important things to do with this phrase. The idiom might help define the dynamic between coworkers or family members.
Origins of “Bigger fish to fry”
“Bigger fish to fry” is a great example of how well-known idioms can have unknown origins. The phrase dates back to at least the 1600s in England, and perhaps much earlier. Scholars have discovered similar phrases dating back to early centuries in other countries, like France and Spain. These sayings are related, although not exactly the same. For example, in France, there is a saying “other dogs to whip” and in English, “other fish to fry.” Another related saying that readers might be familiar with is “there are other fish in the sea,” which dates back to the 1500s in the United States.
- “More fish in the sea.”
- “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
- “A dime a dozen.”
- “Beat around the bush.”
- “Bite off more than you can chew.”