play second fiddle

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play second fiddle

To have a subordinate, lesser, or smaller role, position, or part (in something). I'm really sick of playing second fiddle to this ignoramus—I'm the one who deserves to be the star of the show! Because I wasn't willing to play office politics, I never got the big promotion and have been playing second fiddle ever since.
See also: fiddle, play, second
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

play second fiddle (to someone)

Fig. to be in a subordinate position to someone. I'm tired of playing second fiddle to John. I'm better trained than he, and I have more experience. I shouldn't always play second fiddle.
See also: fiddle, play, second
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

play second fiddle

Assume a subsidiary role to someone, as in Mary resented always playing second fiddle to her older sister. This term alludes to the part of second violin in an orchestra. Although many would argue it is as important as first violin, it is the idea of subordinacy that was transferred in the figurative term, so used since about 1800.
See also: fiddle, play, second
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

play second fiddle

COMMON If someone or something plays second fiddle to someone or something else, they are less important than them. There is some resentment among health professionals at having to play second fiddle in the new structure. Both of these cities play second fiddle to London on the international stage. Note: You can also just say that someone is second fiddle. I think Caryl would have to admit that we're no longer second fiddle to our American cousins. Note: A fiddle is a violin. The expression here refers to the first and second violins in an orchestra.
See also: fiddle, play, second
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

play second fiddle to

take a subordinate role to someone or something.
The expression derives from the respective roles of the fiddles or violins in an orchestra. Both play first fiddle and play third fiddle are much less common. The implication of playing second fiddle is often that it is somewhat demeaning.
1998 Times In A Yank at Oxford she played second fiddle to Vivien Leigh, which never got anyone very far.
See also: fiddle, play, second, to
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

play second ˈfiddle

have a lower or less important position than another person: She wants to be the boss, not play second fiddle to somebody else. OPPOSITE: call the shots/the tune
Fiddle is an informal word for ‘violin’.
See also: fiddle, play, second
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

play second fiddle, to

To play a subsidiary role to someone, particularly to one’s immediate superior. While musicians might argue that in orchestras and chamber ensembles the part of second violin is just as important as that of first violin, this term, when transferred to other enterprises, definitely denigrates the second, at least in relation to the first. It has been so used since about 1800. B. H. Malkin had it in his translation of Gil Blas (1809): “I am quite at your service to play second fiddle in all your laudable enterprises.”
See also: play, second, to
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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