Potatoes seem to have suffered a cruel fate. I have to admit that it bothers me somewhat. When used as a metaphor in everyday language the meaning is most often implying something derogatory, something very common or something insignificant. Nothing grand being compared to a potato keeping in mind the overall appearance of potatoes. I am not going to argue otherwise. Potatoes are common enough. And therein lies their grandeur. I am also curious about the origin of the phrase “small potato”.
The Urban dictionary states that it's originally comes from the Irish famine in the mid nineteenth century.
… comes from the Irish potato famine from 1845 - 1849, as potatoes was the main food source in Ireland. Used to describe the small surviving potatoes that were picked
Those coins are small potatoes; we're not going to use them later on.1
The meaning of the term is certainly insignificant or of a small amount but is that it's origin? I have been struggling with that of late. My admiration for the potato prevents me from accepting this explanation of the origin. My way of thinking has been that were I down to living on merely the smallest of potatoes, the rest of the rest, the ones at the bottom of the barrel that you would rarely use at all or even consider using, my thankful admiration would prevent me from referring to it like that. I would be singing praises to even the smallest of potatoes.
Perhaps there is some sarcasm involved that simply evades me. Perhaps I shouldn't dwell on the matter. I should allow small potatoes to remain small potatoes whatever the origin.