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soft-pedal

[sawft-ped-l, soft-]
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verb (used without object), soft-ped·aled, soft-ped·al·ing or (especially British) soft-ped·alled, soft-ped·al·ling.
  1. to use the soft pedal.
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verb (used with object), soft-ped·aled, soft-ped·al·ing or (especially British) soft-ped·alled, soft-ped·al·ling.
  1. to soften the sound of by using the soft pedal.
  2. Informal. to tone or play down; make less strong, as an idea or fact: The dean soft-pedaled the reports of cheating.
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Origin of soft-pedal

First recorded in 1915–20; v. use of noun phrase soft pedal

soft pedal

noun
  1. Also called una corda pedal. a pedal, as on a piano, for reducing tonal volume.
  2. Informal. something that restrains or dampens: to put a soft pedal on one's enthusiasm.
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Origin of soft pedal

First recorded in 1920–25
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for soft-pedal

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • There had been rumors of trouble back on Earth, persistent rumors he had taken care to soft-pedal, as mayor of the colony.

    Image of the Gods

    Alan Edward Nourse


British Dictionary definitions for soft-pedal

soft-pedal

verb -als, -alling or -alled or US -als, -aling or -aled (tr)
  1. to mute the tone of (a piano) by depressing the soft pedal
  2. informal to make (something, esp something unpleasant) less obvious by deliberately failing to emphasize or allude to it
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noun soft pedal
  1. a foot-operated lever on a piano, the left one of two, that either moves the whole action closer to the strings so that the hammers strike with less force or causes fewer of the strings to soundCompare sustaining pedal, piano 1
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for soft-pedal

v.

"to tone down," 1915, figurative use from the noun (1856) in reference to the left foot-lever of a piano, which makes it quieter among other effects; from soft (adj.) + pedal (n.).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with soft-pedal

soft pedal

Something that de-emphasizes, restrains, or plays down, as in The mayor put a soft pedal on this potentially explosive situation. This expression alludes to the una corda or soft pedal of the piano, which reduces the volume of the sound. It gave rise to the verb soft-pedal, meaning both “reduce the volume of” or “make less emphatic, downplay.” [Early 1900s]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.