Soft pedaling

Finally a idiom that has nothing to do with sports – although when I first heard it I thought it had something to do with cycling.  Alas, no, the expression to “soft-pedal something” has its origin in music, more specifically: playing the piano.

But first the meaning: to soft-pedal something means to play or tone it down, to de-emphasize it, to make it less obvious or emphatic.

Here are a couple of examples:

“Just tell me how I did in the exam, don’t soft-pedal it.  I can take the truth.”

“This report is soft-pedaling the truth about global warming.”

Now to the origin: the soft pedal is one of the standard pedals on a piano, this pedal shifts the whole action including the keyboard slightly to the right, so that hammers which normally strike all three of the strings for a note strike only two of them. This softens the note and also modifies its tone quality.

This expression is useful in both personal and business use. The only word of caution would be that telling somebody that he/she soft pedals something might be understood to imply a certain level of dishonesty.

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One Comment to “Soft pedaling”

  1. Interesting! First I’d heard of this expression…

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