Low-key and lowkey

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Low-key and lowkey are idioms with similar meanings, but are different parts of speech. We will examine the meaning of the common sayings low-key and lowkey, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

Low-key is an adjective that describes something that is subdued or quiet, something that is unobtrusive or does not call attention to itself. For instance, a low-key party is one that hosts few attendees, employs quiet music, and encourages small, intimate conversation. The adjective form of the idiom low-key, which is rendered as a hyphenated compound word, came into use sometime in the latter-1800s and is most probably derived from the idea of a quiet, mellow, musical tone.

Lowkey is an adverb that describes doing something in a restrained fashion. For instance, one may say that he lowkey wants to go to the movies. This means that the person in question has a slight desire to go to the movies, but he might be just as happy engaging in a different activity. The adverb form of the idiom lowkey, which is rendered as a closed compound word, came into use about a decade ago and is an example of how language evolves via the internet.


Pope Francis celebrated a low-key Christmas Eve Mass made somber by the coronavirus pandemic and said people should feel obliged to help the needy because Jesus himself was born a poor outcast. (Toledo Blade)

Calling upon people to celebrate Christmas in a low-key manner, Mangalore Bishop Peter Paul Saldanha said on Wednesday that money saved thus should be donated to people hit hard due to COVID-19. (The Hindu)

Detroit’s Anna Burch drops Carpenters-esque Christmas single just in time to lowkey depress us for the holidays (Detroit Metro Times)

“I lowkey tried to kind of talk her out of it, but, of course, I’m going to support her with whatever she’s going to do.” (SMU Daily Campus)

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