Petty used to mean just "petite" or "small," but now it's used for things that are trivial and shouldn’t matter much. If you host world leaders and spend more time picking napkins than memorizing names, you're focused on petty things.

A few neutral meanings of petty are still in use today — such as "petty cash," which refers to a small amount of cash on hand — but most uses of petty since the 16th century are negative, as in "narrow-minded," "trivial," and "of little importance." A "petty argument" is a popular expression, because many people get all worked up over something that isn't very important — a petty concern — that seems much smaller after the heat of the moment.

Definitions of petty
  1. adjective
    (informal) small and of little importance
    “limited to petty enterprises”
    synonyms: fiddling, footling, lilliputian, little, niggling, picayune, piddling, piffling, trivial
    not important
  2. adjective
    inferior in rank or status
    petty officialdom”
    synonyms: junior-grade, lower-ranking, lowly, secondary, subaltern
    younger; lower in rank; shorter in length of tenure or service
  3. adjective
    (of a crime) lesser in seriousness or importance
  4. noun
    larceny of property having a value less than some amount (the amount varies by locale)
    synonyms: petit larceny, petty larceny
    see moresee less
    grand larceny, grand theft
    larceny of property having a value greater than some amount (the amount varies by locale)
    type of:
    larceny, stealing, theft, thievery, thieving
    the act of taking something from someone unlawfully
  5. adjective
    contemptibly narrow in outlook
    petty little comments”
    synonyms: small-minded
    blinkered, narrow, narrow-minded
    lacking tolerance or flexibility or breadth of view
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