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soft pedal

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


[sawft-ped-l, soft-] /ˌsɔftˈpɛd l, ˌsɒft-/
verb (used without object), soft-pedaled, soft-pedaling or (especially British) soft-pedalled, soft-pedalling.
to use the soft pedal.
verb (used with object), soft-pedaled, soft-pedaling or (especially British) soft-pedalled, soft-pedalling.
to soften the sound of by using the soft pedal.
Informal. to tone or play down; make less strong, as an idea or fact:
The dean soft-pedaled the reports of cheating.
1915-20; v. use of noun phrase soft pedal Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for soft pedal
Historical Examples
  • On Dec. 20,1913, we find the "Outlook" "putting the soft pedal" on the public indignation.

  • She muffled the notes with the soft pedal and broke off frequently.

    The Child of Pleasure Gabriele D'Annunzio
  • And whisper,—soft pedal on Djickyns here, but heavy on his suff'rin' countrymen!

    Torchy, Private Sec. Sewell Ford
  • It is good to have, but egotism needs the soft pedal when we speak or do things.

    Evening Round Up William Crosbie Hunter
  • When the train whistles for Needley, Harry, you put the soft pedal on the dope—that ought to help some.

    The Miracle Man Frank L. Packard
  • There was a shadow across his sky, a soft pedal applied to every emotion.

    The Rest Hollow Mystery Rebecca N. Porter
  • The soft pedal in the square piano simply interposes a piece of felt between each hammer and its corresponding string or strings.

    Piano Tuning J. Cree Fischer
  • So Edith promised to play with the soft pedal down, which she never did.

    Dodo, Volumes 1 and 2 Edward Frederic Benson
  • If I thought it would please you I'd cut out the brass band effects and put some soft pedal polish on my manners.

    John Marsh's Millions Charles Klein
  • Should the expression "p" be executed by the aid of the soft pedal or through the fingers?

    Piano Playing Josef Hofmann
British Dictionary definitions for soft pedal


verb (transitive) -als, -alling, -alled (US) -als, -aling, -aled
to mute the tone of (a piano) by depressing the soft pedal
(informal) to make (something, esp something unpleasant) less obvious by deliberately failing to emphasize or allude to it
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 sound Compare sustaining pedal, piano1
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
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Contemporary definitions for soft pedal
noun's 21st Century Lexicon
Copyright © 2003-2014, LLC
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Word Origin and History for soft pedal



"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.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for soft pedal

soft money

noun phrase

  1. Currency that is highly inflated or likely to become less and less valuable: During the first two months of this year, soft money contributions, chiefly from industry, flowed into the coffers of the Republican National Committee (1940+)
  2. Campaign donations that are not regulated by the Federal Election Commission: raising millions of dollars of what is known in election-financing language as ''soft money''/ Clinton is behind in the collection of soft money, funds that are supposed to go for ''party-building activities'' but can make a big difference in a Presidential contest (1980s+ Politics)
  3. Money from research grants, which may run out if the grant is not renewed (1976+ Universities)

[modeled on hard money]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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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 ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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