to make something seem less important


to soft-pedal (demands etc.)= etw. runterspielen, kleinreden, herunterschrauben, zurückstecken —— to soft-pedal (go easy) = sich zurückhalten —— to soft-pedal = mit dem Pianopedal spielen



"As many as three dozen current and former CIA officers have gone to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees over the past year  to raise concerns that a CIA task force has been SOFT-PEDALING its investigation into a mysterious illness impacting agency officers and diplomats known colloquially as “Havana Syndrome”.

Katie Bo Lillis, Jeremy Herb and Kylie Atwood – CNN (5 October 2022)

Did you


- to make something seem less important or less bad than it really is

- to dampen, diminish, or downplay the importance or impact of something

- play down, de-emphasize

The Cambridge Dictionary / The Free Dictionary / Merriam-Webster


The soft pedal (or una corda pedal) is one of the standard pedals on a piano that is generally placed on the far left. On a grand piano it shifts the whole action including the keyboard slightly to the right, so that the 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.

Likewise, a person can modify his or her “tone quality” by choosing words that make something sound or appear to be not as important or critical as it really is. This is the figurative sense of soft-pedalling and dates back to 1856.


Many English phrases have a music background – test yourself with the following ten:

1. Like a broken record

2. Play by ear

3. Call the tune

4. Fiddle while Rome burns

5. Chime in

6. Fine tuning

7. Drum up

8. Wet your whistle

9. Tickle the ivory

10. Ring a bell


1. Like a broken record = Used to describe someone who keeps talking about the same thing over and over again.

2. Play by ear = To deal with something in an impromptu manner, without guidelines or rules. It refers to playing music without using written connotation.

3. Call the tune = Used to describe the person who makes the important decisions about something.

4. Fiddle while Rome burns = Used when people are procrastinating or wasting their time on unimportant matters while there are more serious problems to be dealt with.

5. Chime in = Used when someone interrupts or joins in a conversation, especially to repeat or agree with something.

6. Fine tuning = Used to describe small adjustments made to improve something or to make it work better.

7. Drum up = Actively try to get extra support / business / interest by various means.

8. Wet your whistle = To drink something alcoholic.

9. Tickle the ivory = A humorous way of talking about playing the piano.

10. Ring a Bell = If something rings a bell, it sounds familiar, but you can’t remember the exact details.

BTW, “Does the name ‘Pavlov’ ring a bell?”

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849 – 1936) was a Russian Soviet experimental neurologist, psychologist and physiologist known for his discovery of classical conditioning through his experiments with dogs, which he trained to salivate at the sound of a bell.


- to make, or attempt to make, something seem less important
- to attempt to persuade without being obvious about it, by understating a position

attach little importance to, brush under the carpet, dampen, de-emphasize, devalue, dilute, diminish, downgrade, downplay, extenuate, fail to appreciate, give a lower profile, give little weight to, gloss, gloss over, lessen, make light of, make little of, mince words, minimise, mitigate, moderate, modulate, not do justice to, paper over, pass over, set little store by, shush, smooth over, SOFT-PEDAL, soften, sugarcoat, tone down, treat as unimportant, treat lightly, trivialise, underemphasize, underplay, underrate, understate, whitewash, wink at

SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“He really should SOFT-PEDAL his rhetoric if he wants to be re-elected as committee chairman.”

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Paul Smith, IBAN: DE75 7316 0000 0002 5477 40

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