play second fiddle, to

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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 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
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in periodicals archive ?
Their ambition and ideals for a just and fairer Wales are relentlessly subsumed by party politics; and Plaid Cymru will always have to play second fiddle to their allegiance to Westminster and the English Crown.
The question is, are you prepared to play second fiddle? stops work but I understand that after five years of being with someone, you're looking for more commitment from him - you still only meet up once or twice a week.
Ronaldo has won the award once before, back in 2008 while at Manchester United, but since then he has had to play second fiddle to Messi in the voting, finishing runner-up three times as the Argentinian claimed the crown four times.
How long will hubby Ray be happy to play second fiddle?
Summary: Comedian and actor Russell Brand had to play second fiddle to the Dalai Lama on Saturday night.
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Gold admitted the cup has to play second fiddle to West Ham staying in the Premier League.
Ferrari's decision has effectively ensured Massa will now have to play second fiddle to Alonso for the remainder of the season.
Goalkeeper Alexander has said he will consider quitting the club if he continues to play second fiddle to Allan McGregor.
But he has had to play second fiddle to Benoit Assou-Ekotto this campaign.
KIRKLAND And although he had to play second fiddle to Kenya's Simon Tonui, he produced a new lifetime best of two hours 23 minutes 55 seconds, which was nearly five minutes faster than his second place last year.
Other nations often work in tandem at major events but Yamauchi refuses to play second fiddle to fellow Briton Radcliffe.
The England striker has been continually linked with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, who are hoping to capitalise on Defoe currently having to play second fiddle to the Robbie Keane-Dimitar Berbatov combo.
Both sides have been forced to play second fiddle to Chelsea in recent seasons.
Joe Janiak's admirable seven-year-old, winner of the King's Stand Stakes and third in the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, was quickly away under Jay Ford in the 6f event, but eventually had to play second fiddle as local hope She Is Tosho delivered a late challenge to win by three lengths.