Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you get bogged down with minutiae and trivial details or are you a big picture thinker?

In today’s episode, Aubrey and Lindsay will show you an outdated English phrase about details and you will get three current ones to use to talk about your way of thinking.

Arguments and Confrontations

Lindsay asks Aubrey if she tends to get into arguments over things that are not really important.

Aubrey says that she does not do that. She doesn’t like confrontation, so she avoids it as much as possible.

She is a peacemaker. If she gets into an argument with another person, whether it be her friends or her husband, she just lets it go.

She doesn’t make it bother her and she picks her battles.

It has to be a really big deal before she decides to start a fight or engage in an argument.

Lindsay is the same. She doesn’t like to be involved in drama. When she experiences confrontation she doesn’t know how to be assertive so she also avoids it.

Today’s episode is inspired by a question from Kadir of Turkey.

His question is:

“There’s no point in arguing over trifles.’ So, in that sentence I know that the word trifles means something unimportant or not valuable. Nevertheless, when I’m writing an essay or a formal letter I’d rather not use that word since it sounds somewhat old-fashioned to me. What I’m looking for is a word that has the same meaning but is more up-to-date. Thanks a lot in advance. I hope you will answer my question.”


Kadir has been one of the All Ears English listeners for five years now. Special thank you to Kadir!

Aubrey says this question is very insightful. It really is old fashioned to say “arguing over trifles.”

You may hear it in old movies or Aubrey may have heard it from her grandparents.

Ways to Use Trifle

Lindsay shares that she is not familiar with the terms “over trifles.”

When she hears trifle, she thinks of the dessert.

A trifle dessert is a sponge cake with custard and cream with fruits.

It is often made in a glass bowl so you can see the layers.

It is popular in many countries.

Aubrey shares that a German exchange student who is living with her sister made a raspberry trifle with cream cheese that was so delicious.

There are other meanings of trifle, including the definition mentioned by Kadir.

In Kadir’s example, a trifle is pertaining to something of little value or importance.

An example on how to use it in a sentence is: “Don’t bother her with such trifles.”

Another definition of trifle is when it’s used as a verb. It can mean to treat something or a situation with less seriousness or respect.

An example of how to use it in a sentence as a verb is: “Don’t trifle with that – it’s not important.” or “She is not a teacher to be trifled with.”

Out With the Old, In With the New

Lindsay and Aubrey have shared with you the different definitions of the word “trifle” and how you can use them.

But it is still very old-fashioned.

You may hear it now and then in some old materials, so it is outdated.

You want to be relevant and current when you speak or write in English.

So here are other words and phrases you can use instead of “trifle.”

  • Trivial

The word trivial means something is not important. If you are having a discussion and you are arguing about something so small, you can say “Let’s not argue about something so trivial.”

  • Minutiae

Minutiae is a strange looking word and it can be hard to pronounce even for native English speakers. You pronounce this as mi·noo·shee·uh. It means small and precise details of something that is insignificant. In a sentence you can say “Let’s not argue over this minutiae.”

  • Splitting Hairs

The phrase “splitting hairs” means to argue about something trivial or unimportant. Aubrey shares that this came up the other day with her kids. They wanted to buy a hat in school and she told her kid that she didn’t want them to spend money on him and he told her “It’s not his money. It’s his mom’s money.” Aubrey then used the term splitting hairs and had to explain to him that it doesn’t matter whose money it is, she doesn’t want them paying for her son. This term is also often used by lawyers and politicians.

Lindsay asks Aubrey if she is the kind of person who sees the big picture or prefers details.

Aubrey answers that she is good with details and needs another person to help her see the big picture.

Lindsay is the other way around where she prefers the big picture but when the details get her hooked, she admits it’s not her strong suit.

This is a good reflection for the listeners to see where your strengths are.

This will be really helpful in knowing yourself, especially in the business world.

Are you a person who is good with details or are you someone who is a dreamer and sees the big picture more clearly than others?


Lindsay and Aubrey do a role play using the words and phrases shared in this episode.

The situation is Lindsay and Aubrey are roommates who are divyying up household chores.

Divvy up is a slang term than means dividing stuff.

Here is the roleplay:

Aubrey: I know it’s annoying to have to deal with this minutiae, but we’re both so busy so it’ll help if chores are assigned.

Lindsay: For sure. It seems trivial to have a tidy house, but I can’t relax if there’s clutter around.

Aubrey: I’m really messy so I’ll try to work on that.

Lindsay: Yeah you do your dishes maybe 10% of the time.

Aubrey: I’d say at least 15% of the time.

Lindsay: That’s definitely splitting hairs!


Some phrases do go out of fashion like “argue over trifles.”

You should keep up with new and native ways to say something in English.

It’s easier to build a connection with other English speakers when you use current phrases that they know and use every day.

Also, it is also good for you to get insight if you are a big picture person or are you someone who is better at details.

This can help you in finding the right role for you when applying for a job, especially when you are doing business internationally.

Take the opportunity today to reflect on your personal style and start using this natural vocabulary today.

What are other phrases you hear or read that look outdated?

Let us know in the comments below and let the All Ears English team help you with current alternatives you can use.

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