What Does Bigger Fish to Fry Mean?

Bigger Fish to Fry Meaning

Definition: More important things to do.

Origin of Bigger Fish to Fry

Imagine the following scenario:

You are incredibly hungry, and you are preparing to fry the huge fish that you caught earlier in the day. You can’t wait to devour the whole, giant fish.

Then, all of a sudden someone comes up to you and offers you another fish. However, this new fish is tiny. You have no desire to fry it because it is so small that it is almost worthless.

Certainly, compared to your big fish, it isn’t worth the effort. Therefore, you thank this person for offering you his small fish, but politely tell him that you don’t need it. You have bigger fish to fry.

While this idiom isn’t generally used in such a literal way, this example demonstrates the meaning.

Another common example might be a police officer who is chasing down a murderer. On his chase, he passes by a shoplifter. It can be said that the police officer has bigger fish to fry than the shoplifter because he is chasing down a murderer.

The expression is attested from the year 1660 in the work titled Memoirs written by John Evelyn.

Examples of Bigger Fish to Fry

i got bigger fish to fryThe dialogue below shows two women preparing for an important meeting.

Mila: Betty, will you help me change the font for this handout?

Betty: We don’t have time for that! I’m making some major changes to the PowerPoint. If I don’t finish these changes, none of the presentation will make sense.

Mila: It won’t take long to choose a new font.

Betty: Listen, I have bigger fish to fry! The font doesn’t matter. Choose the font Comic Sans for all I care. It is much more important for me to focus on the PowerPoint right now.

He has bigger fish to fryThis dialogue shows a couple of roommates discussing house business at one of their weekly meetings.

John: We need to choose which of these applicants we will accept to be our third tenant.

Amanda: I agree. However, first I’d like to settle the debate about which way we should hang the toilet paper in the bathroom.

John: If we don’t choose a new roommate today, we won’t be able to afford rent for next month. We will deal with the toilet paper issue after we select the roommate.

Amanda: Is that really necessary?

John: Yes! We can’t deal with the toilet paper thing now. We have bigger fish to fry!

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a new California bill.

  • When it comes to fixing the dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system, state Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) knows there are bigger fish to fry than drug-company discount coupons. –LA Times

The second excerpt is about the son of a politician meeting with Russian politicians.

  • Trump Jr. told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on July 11 that Veselnitskaya told “a story about Russian adoption and how we could possibly help.” Trump Jr. said he then quickly shut down the meeting because “this wasn’t a campaign talking point. This wasn’t something we were — you know, this was not something I was going to worry about at that stage. I mean, we had a lot of bigger fish to fry.” –USA Today


The phrase bigger fish to fry means issues of greater priority of concern to deal with.