Sunday, December 5, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #5: "Bigger fish to fry" is a VERY useful phrase

When there are more important matters to consider, then you can use the phrase "Bigger fish to fry."

The phrase "Bigger fish to fry" is one of the most useful, most simple to use, and most easily understood slang phrases in English.  When there is something that is more important, but when time is being used to think, discuss, or debate other less important matters, you can use the phrase "bigger fish to fry."

The analogy being used is to the preparation of the fish for eating.  When you fry fish, there may be many fish, and not just one.  When there are many fish, and you are frying the small ones, without frying the largest one, then you may be using your time unwisely by focusing your attention on the small fish. 

For example,
A.  "I think that we should use the steel chopsticks, not the wood ones."
B.  "We have bigger fish to fry.  We don't even know where we are serving."

The phrase "bigger fish to fry" is slang and would not be appropriate in formal settings.

Subtle point:
The meaning of "bigger fish to fry" is quite simple.  However, it must be understood that this is very casual language, and that it may contain a very subtle insult.  The implication of the phrase is that someone else is using time and/or attention incorrectly.  In the example above, person B is subtly criticizing person A.  Person B is gently telling Person A that he is wasting time.

Another example:
A.  "Let's focus on this.  We have bigger fish to fry."
B.  "Are you saying that I have been wasting our time?"
A.  "Well, yes." 

If you are not close to the listener, then you can see that the listener can misunderstand the speaker.  For that reason, the phrase "we have bigger fish to fry" should be used carefully.


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