I just checked about half of Google's page one results for "nothing burger", and none of them have the correct meaning of the word. All the examples of contemporary usage were also incorrect, which is appalling.
What a "nothing burger" isn't:
- A synonym for minor, negligible or irrelevant
- Two pieces of bread with nothing between them
To explain what "nothing burger" actually is, I'll need to give some historical and economic background.
Burgers are a heavily branded dish in America. National fast food chains substantially compete with each other based on their burger branding. The burger is their flagship product. They spend huge advertising dollars on this. Everyone has seen many burger ads. These famous burgers are given memorable names such as "Whopper" and "Big Mac".
There are many restaurants which also serve burgers. However, their burgers get practically no advertising.
The phrase "nothing burger" is old. It dates back to the 1950s. "Nothing burger" describes the economic revolution that occurred when nascent fast food chains with branded hamburgers crushed their no-brand competitors.
Nowadays, "nothing burgers" are mostly extinct. Survivors of the branding wars, such as Chili's burgers, try hard to be exciting and differentiated.
Calling something a "nothing burger" is like calling it a "dodo bird". It's a boring and undifferentiated product that will get crushed in the competitive market by brands with national mindshare.
The earliest use of "nothing burger" was correct. It referred to an actress as a "nothing burger", which makes sense, because celebrities compete for zero-sum national brand recognition.
The incorrect meanings of "nothing burger" have entered popular usage, driving out the correct true meaning. Much as branded hamburgers drove nothing burgers out of suggestible consumer minds.