See more synonyms for low-key on Thesaurus.com
adjective Also low-keyed.
  1. of reduced intensity; restrained; understated.
  2. (of a photograph) having chiefly dark tones, usually with little tonal contrast (distinguished from high-key).
verb (used with object), low-keyed, low-key·ing.
  1. to make or attempt to make low-key: to low-key the arms buildup.

Origin of low-key

First recorded in 1890–95
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for low key



  1. having a low intensity or tone
  2. restrained, subdued, or understated
  3. (of a photograph, painting, etc) having a predominance of dark grey tones or dark colours with few highlightsCompare high-key
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 low key

also low-key, 1895, from low (adj.) + key (n.1), perhaps from the musical sense.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper