• synonyms

small beer

See more synonyms for small beer on Thesaurus.com
  1. weak beer.
  2. Chiefly British Slang. matters or persons of little or no importance.
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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 of small beer

  • 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.


    Andrew Lang

British Dictionary definitions for small beer

small beer

  1. informal, mainly British people or things of no importance
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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


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.

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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.

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