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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. © 2022 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 heartstrings, though stronger, still often twang and shiver.
"When Heartstrings Collapse" will run at The Third Line, Alserkal Avenue, until April 16.
Ironically for a film that packs a wallop during briskly edited bouts, Southpaw delivers only a few light jabs to our heartstrings.
We wanted to do that as kind of recognition of the support we have had since we launched the Kickstarter campaign," said Dave, who plays drums in Frankie and the Heartstrings, when his leg isn't in a brace ("charity football injury").
I'd had several offers to manage back in the Premier League, I've spoken to several clubs in different countries but the only place that has really tugged at the heartstrings and made me think this is the right club has been Sociedad."
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.
Buddy has all kinds of appeal to tug at the heartstrings: There's the boy and his dog; swift and unexpected danger; an intact family, where the author includes that rare character, a loving mother (although mom gets pretty darn cranky with her unruly kids at times); and courage from all the characters to face and overcome true disaster.
Arts Umbrella has named Nancy Golden as chairwoman of the organization's 2011-12 HeartStrings fundraising campaign.
But it was his work with the Heartstrings Community Foundation that won him this award.
The result is deeply effecting, skirting sentimentality, but not quite falling into it, but tugging at heartstrings nonetheless.
I received a letter from Ronnie and Grace Sinclair from Thurso about a lovely idea they had called Heartstrings.
This Valentine's Day weekend, David Taylor Dance Theatre of Edgewater, CO, teams up with the Colorado Chamber Players to strum on heartstrings and celebrate the passion of love.
VILLAGES OF KENYA: Heartstrings Theatre Ensemble of Kenya is working to organize its third annual "Villages of Kenya" festival this fall.
On Folk, Ian turns a smart, jaundiced eye toward prejudice ("Danger Danger"), greed ("Haven't I Got Eyes"), war ("The Last Train"), love ("All Those Promises"), and even the autobiography she's going to write next year--on "My Autobiography" she sings, "I've led a fascinating life / Had a husband and a wife / But you will truly be amazed / At just how humble I've stayed." She still knows how to pluck heartstrings with beautiful melodies, especially on a song like "The Great Divide," and she offers an equal dollop of hope ("Joy") to balance out her well-aimed raps on today's deadliest lies and sins.