soften up

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soften up

1. To become soft or malleable. The rubber seal softens up if the engine gets too hot, so we need to make sure to keep it cool. I keep butter in a dish on the counter so it softens up a bit.
2. To make something soft or malleable. In this usage, a noun can be used between "soften" and "up." You need to heat the glass to high temperatures to soften it up before you can work with it. The sun softened the ground up a bit after being frozen over the winter.
3. To become less resistant or emotionally hardened; to become gentler or more amenable. My dad was a bit of a tyrant when we were kids, but he softened up as he got older. The company's upper management has been notoriously reserved about adopting more mainstream market trends, but they seem to be softening up in recent years.
4. To make someone more amenable to a suggestion or idea. Toddlers are difficult to deal with at the best of times. If you want yours to do something, sometimes softening them up with a small present or treat is the best course of action. Worried about how her mother might react to her new boyfriend, Jane asked her father to soften her up before she brought him over to dinner. I always suggest softening up potential clients with dinner at a nice restaurant.
5. To make someone less tough, focused, determined, skilled, or able-bodied. He used to be the sharpest detective in the force, but years behind a desk in the head office has softened him up. Worried about how her mother might react to her new boyfriend, Jane asked her father to soften her up before she brought him over to dinner.
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soften someone up

Fig. to prepare to persuade someone of something. I will talk to Fred and soften him up for your request. I will soften up your father before you ask him about it.
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soften something up

to take actions that will make something softer. soften the butter up before you add it to the batter. Please soften up the ice cream before you try to serve it.
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soften up

 
1. Lit. [for something] to become softer. The butter softened up in the heat of the day. The candles will probably soften up and bend over in this hot weather.
2. Fig. [for someone] to adopt a more gentle manner. After a while, she softened up and was more friendly. It was weeks before Ted softened up and treated us more kindly.
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soften up

Reduce resistance, as in His sales motto was: a fine lunch and a few drinks often will soften up a prospective customer . This expression transfers lessening of physical hardness to lessening mental resistance. It was first used, however, in World War II, where it meant "reduce the enemy's defenses by preliminary bombing." [c. 1940]
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soften up

v.
1. To make something soft or softer: He softened up his new baseball glove with some oil. He left the butter out to soften it up.
2. To undermine or reduce the strength, morale, or resistance of someone or something: The air force softened up the enemy positions with a heavy bombing campaign. The children gave me a present to soften me up before asking for new bicycles.
See also: soften, up