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small beer

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noun
  1. weak beer.
  2. Chiefly British Slang. matters or persons of little or no importance.

Origin of small beer

First recorded in 1560–70
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for small beer

Historical Examples

  • M. M. Plentiful diet of flesh-meat and vegetables with small-beer.

    Zoonomia, Vol. II

    Erasmus Darwin

  • His usual beverage was small-beer and cider, and Madeira wine.

  • One morning a man stepped in and bought a bottle of small-beer.

  • "Bread and cheese and small-beer, father," says she, smiling.

    English Fairy Tales

    Flora Annie Steel

  • This production ‘was voted heretical,’ and burned by the hands of the small-beer drawer, while the author was expelled.

    Oxford

    Andrew Lang


British Dictionary definitions for small beer

small beer

noun
  1. informal, mainly British people or things of no importance
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for small beer

n.

1560s, originally "weak beer;" used figuratively of small things or trifling matters. Small with the meaning "of low alcoholic content" is attested from mid-15c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with small beer

small beer

Also, small potatoes. Of little importance, as in Don't listen to Henry; he's small beer, or It's silly to worry about that bill; it's small potatoes. The first term alludes to a beer of low alcoholic content (also called light beer today) and was used metaphorically by Shakespeare in several plays. The variant may have been invented by frontiersman Davy Crockett; it was first recorded in 1836. Also see small fry, def. 2.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.