Play second fiddle

The idiom play second fiddle dates from the 1800s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. 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)

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