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Norwegian has an idiom that means roughly "small change compared to the real cost or value", which would translate literally as "buttons and scraps".

Is there a similar idiom in English?

Some usage examples translated from Norwegian:

  • "We cannot accept that our part of the country would be left with [buttons and scraps] while valuable resources disappear before our eyes" (Local politician in a discussion on oil.)
  • "Offered [buttons and scraps] - that's why we're going on strike" (Newspaper headline)
  • "Unless they are in the porn or games business, media companies must accept that their future income from internet content will remain [buttons and scraps]" (Newspaper opinion piece)

If you are on the buying end the English idiom "for a song" ("I got it for a song") is pretty much the same, but I don't think it can be used in contexts like above.

Is there an idiom that can?

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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Some options from a thesaurus (some better than others): peanuts, crumbs, chicken feed, chump change, nickels and dimes, pittance, small potatoes, scraps, drop in the ocean, trifle.

Of these, "peanuts" and "small potatoes" are probably the ones closest to appropriate in your sentences.

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great list, mine is just a 'drop in the ocean'. –  Sky Red Feb 4 '11 at 21:07
    
As a non-native speaker I am hardly qualified to pick a winner, but I do like "peanuts" :) –  j-g-faustus Feb 4 '11 at 21:31
    
In American English i think chump change will be most likely to be seen in the above three sentences. Peanuts is just okay, I feel scraps and crumbs are better. Pittance to me would be the way a Brit will put it. –  Nas Banov Feb 6 '11 at 6:08
    
I think chump change is most likely in the second sentence. I could see scraps in the first one and perhaps small potatoes in the third. –  Dave DuPlantis Apr 12 '11 at 17:04
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In American English you often hear the word 'bupkis' used to describe about the same thing.

  • "We cannot accept that our part of the country would be left with bupkis while valuable resources disappear before our eyes" (Local politician in a discussion on oil.)
  • "Offered bupkis - that's why we're going on strike" (Newspaper headline)
  • "Unless they are in the porn or games business, media companies must accept that their future income from internet content will remain bupkis" (Newspaper opinion piece)

The link describes bupkis as 'small goat droppings', but in my experience most people use it to mean 'void' or 'nothingness'.

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That's from Yiddish, and as such would be used much more in certain parts of the US (such as the New York area) than others. –  Jeanne Pindar Feb 5 '11 at 0:29
    
Wrong, the Yiddish bupkis means "absolutely nothing" or "nothing of value", is not American English per se and does not fit in the example sentences where it is supposed to mean small value instead –  Nas Banov Feb 6 '11 at 5:58
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The best I can think of in American English would be "beads and trinkets" (or "trinkets and beads", depending on what sounds best), a reference to the purchase of all of Manhattan Island from a tribe of Indians in exchange for a bunch of low-valued items.

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There isn't a similar idiom in English, but I may be proven wrong. The closest option I can think of is pittance, which means:

A very small amount or a meagre remuneration

Example of usage:

I was paid a pittance for the work I did.

Americans might use chump change, which means a trifling or pitiful sum of money.

Without using an idiom , you could write:

The payment we received does not reflect the value of the service rendered.

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