Play second fiddle

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The idiom play second fiddle dates from the 1800s. We will examine the meaning of the idiom play second fiddle, where this phrase came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To play second fiddle means to take a subordinate role, to be subservient to someone or to take a supporting role rather than the most important or starring role in a situation. The expression play second fiddle is derived from the way a musical orchestra is organized. The first violin is the musician who leads the section and is the highest position of the musicians in the orchestra. This means that the second violin musician is subordinate to the first violin. Fiddle is a less formal word for violin. The idiom play second fiddle first appeared in the early 1800s and its popularity peaked during the mid-1900s. Related phrases are plays second fiddle, played second fiddle, playing second fiddle.


Gus is FOX’s lead college football play-by-play guy, but FOX is always going to play second fiddle to ESPN when it comes to that sport. (Sports Illustrated)

But India probably does not want to play second fiddle to the Americans. (Haaretz)

His passion for the gridiron always played second fiddle to his first love, basketball, during his days as a two-sport star at Tri-Valley, when he starred in both sports from 2014-18. (The Zanesville Times Recorder)

Playing second fiddle to his caddie won’t become one of Koepka’s famous motivational plays for majors – seek out a reason to feel disrespected, prove offender wrong, rinse and repeat. (USA Today)