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play on the/(one's) heartstrings

To elicit a very strong emotional reaction in one, especially a feeling of sympathy, pity, or compassion. I don't know why, but that piece of music always plays on my heartstrings. That documentary really plays on the heartstrings—you'll want to adopt all of those kids after watching it. Can't anyone else see that all her tears and wailing are just an act to play on people's heartstrings.
See also: heartstring, on, play

tear/tug/pull at/on (one's)/the heartstrings

To elicit strong feelings of sympathy or fondness. I don't know why, but that piece of music always tears at my heartstrings. That documentary really pulls on the heartstrings—you'll want to adopt all of those kids after watching it.
See also: heartstring, on, pull, tear, tug
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

play on someone's heartstrings

Fig. to attempt to get sympathy from someone. She is crying so she can play on your heartstrings and try to get you to take her home.
See also: heartstring, on, play
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

tug at the heartstrings


tug at your heartstrings

COMMON If someone or something tugs at the heartstrings or tugs at your heartstrings, they cause you to feel pity or sadness. Miss Cookson knows exactly how to tug at readers' heartstrings. Note: You can use verbs such as pull and pluck instead of tug. Unlike many charity campaigns, it doesn't pull at the heartstrings. Note: You can also omit the word at. McLachlan tugs the heartstrings with a succession of ballads. Note: Heartstrings is used in many other structures and expressions with similar meanings. This is not a movie that aims for the heartstrings. Note: In medieval times, it was believed that `heartstrings' were tendons which supported the heart.
See also: heartstring, tug
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

tug at somebody’s ˈheartstrings

make somebody feel strong emotions of sadness and pity: Advertisers often use babies and children to tug at your heartstrings.
See also: heartstring, tug
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
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References in periodicals archive ?
The job pulls at every heartstring and the amount of pride that comes is incredible The jo
Frankie and the Heartstrings, who will be appearing at Arc this weekend along with a host of other music acts
"Heartstrings," at almost 4 feet by 5 feet, is reportedly one of the largest works in oil by the painter.
The sledgehammer of guilt as he wails his desolation, the painful squeak and tug of your newly-minted heartstrings. The sheer physical effort - like being a both foot-soldier and general in your own personal war - as you dress your baby, oh so sleepy, and gather baby clothes and nappies and the special breast milk picnic for "while you are away", while a part of you screams "but you shouldn't be!".
The Paris-based artist grew up in Dubai, and in her latest show in the city, "When Heartstrings Collapse", she has used images of her own skin cells to investigate the perception of boundaries and proportion between interior and exterior, microcosm and macrocosm.
Vocal performances are note perfect, led by Poehler's exuberant portrayal of Joy and Smith's sincere embodiment of Sadness, who tugs heartstrings as the film reaches its exquisite conclusion.
Fans and patrons of Pop Recs Ltd were understandably gutted earlier this year when Dave Harper and Michael McKnight (of Frankie and the Heartstrings founding fame) announced that the Fawcett Street venue, which they had crafted into a combined record store, coffee shop, art gallery and community space, was going to close while they looked for a new place to be.
Last November Beth released her debut single Heartstrings along with an accompanying video, which gained local radio airplay on BBC Introducing and Metro Radio, as well as reaching number 18 in the iTunes singer-songwriter chart,
DAVID Moyes said Real Sociedad were the "only side that tugged at my heartstrings" after revealing he had turned down offers from a number of Premier League clubs before agreeing to take over the Primera Division strugglers.
Peter Bacon Rock & Pop Damien Rice My Favourite Faded Fantasy MAKE of him what you will, but there is little doubt Damien Rice knows how to write a tune to tug on the heartstrings.
She pulled at one's heartstrings. Unfortunately, she was famous at a time when it was very difficult to be out and became addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Fighting everything from asthma to brain infections these inspirational film-makers like Sam (above) won't so much tug at your heartstrings but strangle you with them.
THE DOG RESCUERS C5 8pm Alan Davies and his RSPCA angels, including Inspector Emma Stainthorpe (right), continue to tug at our heartstrings as they save more pooches in need of love and a new life.
From first person dog's-eye perspective to the perceptions of new animal owners, LUCKY DOG is filled with reflections and insights that will tug at heartstrings and delight any young reader interested in dogs.
Natalie Gould's article, "For the Love of Brussels Sprouts" (May/June) tugged at more than my heartstrings. Her love affair with this much maligned vegetable got me thinking perhaps I'd been a bit hasty in cutting ties with this kissing cousin of cabbage.