Second string

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Second string is an idiom. We will examine the meaning of the expression second string, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Second string refers to someone or something that is an emergency alternative to someone or something. For instance, the understudy for the star in a Broadway show is the second string actor, who performs if the star is ill or injured. The term second string is related to the terms first string and third string. The idiom second string was first used in the realm of sports in the 1800s. The first string players are the best on the team, and see the most playing time. The second string players are sent into the game when the first string players are injured or when they need a rest. Third string players see the least playing time, as they are only used when the first and second string players are out of commission. The idiom second string may be used in diverse situations, and carries the connotation of not being as skilled or competent as the primary person one is replacing. Second string may be used to simply mean that someone has mediocre prestige or talent. Most etymologies trace the expression second string to medieval times, when an archer carried a second string for his bow in case the first string broke. This literal meaning of the term second string has been in use for over six hundred years, though the idiom second string has only been in use since the 1800s. When used as an adjective before a noun, the term is hyphenated as in second-string. A person who is an understudy or emergency alternative is known as a second stringer.


DPMM FC’s second string fell to a 1-0 defeat to Thai side Ayutthaya United FC in the first match of their pre-season friendly tour at the Ayutthaya Province Stadium yesterday. (The Borneo Bulletin)

Look at what happened in last year’s Super Bowl, the haters can point out, when second-string quarterback Nick Foles led the Eagles to a stunning victory against the Patriots. (The MetroWest Daily News)

Khawaja’s return to form came against a second-string Sri Lankan attack but the Australian No. 3 can only score against who is in front of him. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

It was not exactly a routine invitation for a second string theater critic. (The Los Angeles Times)