1. weak or inferior beer;
2. something of small importance : trivia.

1. The money we spend on cable is small beer compared to the mortgage payment we have to come up with every month.
2. “The main drink was ‘small beer’, which had a low alcohol content—just enough to preserve it—and was drunk by almost everyone, from children to old men, instead of water.” — From an article by Alex Fensome in The Dominion Post (New Zealand), January 13, 2014.

“Small beer” dates from Shakespeare’s day. The Bard didn’t coin it (he would have been just a child in 1568, the date of the first documented instance of “small beer”), but he did put the term to good use. In Henry VI, Part 2, for example, the rebel Jack Cade declares that, when he becomes king, he will “make it felony to drink small beer.” In Othello, Desdemona asks Iago to describe a “deserving woman.” Iago responds by listing praises for ten lines, only to conclude that such a woman would be suited “to suckle fools, and chronicle small beer”; in other words, to raise babies and keep track of insignificant household expenses. Desdemona quickly retorts, declaring Iago’s assertion a “most lame and impotent conclusion.”


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