lit·tle / ˈlitl/ • adj. small in size, amount, or degree (often used to convey an appealing diminutiveness or express an affectionate or condescending attitude): the plants will grow into little bushes a little puppy dog a boring little man he's a good little worker. ∎ (of a person) young or younger: my little brother when she was little she was always getting into scrapes. ∎ denoting something, esp. a place, that is named after a similar larger one: New York's Little Italy. ∎ used in names of animals and plants that are smaller than related kinds, e.g., little grebe. ∎ of short distance or duration: stay for a little while we climbed up a little way. ∎ relatively unimportant; trivial (often used ironically): we have a little problem I can't remember every little detail. • adj. & pron. 1. (a little) a small amount of: [as adj.] we got a little help from my sister [as pron.] you only see a little of what he can do. ∎ [pron.] a short time or distance: after a little, the rain stopped. 2. used to emphasize how small an amount is: [as adj.] I have little doubt of their identity there was very little time to be lost [as pron.] he ate and drank very little the ruble is worth so little these days. • adv. (less / les/ , least / lēst/ ) 1. (a little) to a small extent: he reminded me a little of my parents I was always a little afraid of her. 2. (used for emphasis) only to a small extent; not much or often: he was little known in this country he had slept little these past weeks. ∎ hardly or not at all: little did he know what wheels he was putting into motion. PHRASES: in little archaic on a small scale; in miniature. little by little by degrees; gradually: little by little the money dried up. little or nothing hardly anything. make little of treat as unimportant: they made little of their royal connection. no little considerable: a factor of no little importance. not a little a great deal (of); much: not a little consternation was caused. ∎ very: it was not a little puzzling. quite a little a fairly large amount of: some spoke quite a little English. ∎ a considerable: it turned out to be quite a little bonanza. DERIVATIVES: lit·tle·ness n.
Little Englander a person who opposes an international role or policy for England (or, in practice, for Britain). The term dates from the late 19th century, and is currently often used in relation to opposition to Europe.
little fish are sweet figurative use to indicate that even a small gift or sum of money can be very welcome; saying recorded from the mid 19th century.
little gentleman in black velvet the mole, as a Jacobite toast, referring to the belief that William III's death resulted from the king's being thrown from his horse, Sorrel, when it stumbled on a molehill.
little green man an imaginary being from outer space. The expression is not recorded until the mid-20th century; the earliest literal use of the phrase, in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), refers to a Pictish warrior who is tattooed green.
little leaks sink the ship something apparently trivial may still cause serious damage; proverbial saying, early 17th century.
little local difficulties deliberately dismissive phrase used by Harold Macmillan (1894–1986) as Prime Minister, before leaving for a Commonwealth tour in January 1958, referring to the resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other members of the Cabinet.
Little Lord Fauntleroy the boy hero of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), who wore velvet suits with lace collars, and had his hair in ringlets.
little pitchers have large ears children are likely to overhear what is not meant for them (a pitcher's ears are its handles); proverbial saying, mid 16th century.
a little pot is soon hot a small person quickly becomes angry or passionate; proverbial saying, mid 16th century.
Little Red Riding-hood the heroine of the nursery story by the French writer Charles Perrault (1628–1703), in which a woodcutter's daughter is menaced by a wolf which has eaten her grandmother and is lying in wait, disguised as the grandmother, for Red Riding-Hood herself.
little strokes fell great oaks a person or thing of size and stature can be brought down by a series of small blows; proverbial saying, early 15th century.
little thieves are hanged, but great ones escape sufficient power and influence can ensure that a wrongdoer is not punished. The saying is recorded in English from the mid 17th century; the related ‘little thieves are hanged, not big ones’ is found earlier in late 14th-century French.
little things please little minds often used as a rebuke or rejoinder; proverbial saying from the late 16th century. The Roman poet Ovid (43 bc–ad c.17) in Ars Amatoria has, ‘small things enthral light minds.’
there is no little enemy proverbial saying, mid 17th century, meaning that any enemy can be dangerous; Chaucer in the Tale of Melibee (c.1386) has, ‘Ne be nat necligent to kepe thy persone, nat oonly fro thy grettest enemys, but fro thy leeste enemy. Senek seith: ‘.A man that is well avysed, he dredeth his leste enemy.’. ’
See also big fish eat little fish, little birds that can sing and won't sing, Chicken Little at chicken, every little helps, great oaks from little acorns grow, little grey cells, love me little, love me long at love2, many a little makes a mickle, much cry and little wool, poor little rich girl, little tin god.