play second fiddle

Idioms & Phrases

play second fiddle

Assume a subsidiary role to someone, as in Mary resented always playing second fiddle to her older sister. This term alludes to the part of second violin in an orchestra. Although many would argue it is as important as first violin, it is the idea of subordinacy that was transferred in the figurative term, so used since about 1800.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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