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Second fiddle? 副手

中国日报网 2023-12-26 11:16


Reader question:

Please explain “second fiddle”, as in this sentence: He’s tired of playing second fiddle in their relationship.

My comments:

Is this a marriage or just another relationship between friends?

If we’re talking about a married couple, then the man is complaining that he has a dominant and perhaps domineering wife. She is the decision maker. She’s the leader. He’s the follower.

After a time, he gets tired of it. Understandably, he also wants to be able to make major decisions. He wants to be master of the house, if you will.

If we’re talking about a relationship between friends, on the other hand, then the speaker also is the follower rather than the leader.

Maybe his friend is a more capable person in every way or maybe he’s just an aggressive person who doesn’t know how to defer to others. Whatever the situation, the speaker who plays the second fiddle to his partner plays a secondary and subordinate role in their relationship. And, understandably, he gets tired of it after a while, because playing second fiddle makes him feel inferior, makes him lose confidence in himself.

So on and so forth.

Oh, second fiddle.

Second fiddle refers to the second violin (fiddle) to the First Violin, who is the star performer in an orchestra.

The First Violin plays in the front and center of the stage, under the spotlight. He or she garners the most attention – and applause.

While the second violins (plural because, usually, there’s a bunch of them) are huddled behind the First Violin, hidden among the masses who play a variety of instruments or organs.

The second violins don’t get to play the main melody. That’s the job of the First Violin. Instead, second violins play in a chorus and in harmony.

In other words, second violins don’t get to shine individually. They don’t get to the attention of the audience.

If we liken the orchestra to a race, then the Frist Violin is the winner, the champion while the second violins are losers, runners-up, also-runs.

Losers, yes, but runners-up? Yeah, after the winner crosses the finish line, they’re seen running up the track in the winner’s wake, hence the name.

Also-runs? Well, that means they also run the race (but, sadly, nobody notices them).

Needless to say, losers, runners-up and also-runs are, mince no words, not very good.

In reality, second violins are actually good. But their secondary role is real. Hence, the general perception that the second violins are not very good.

Hence and therefore, the idiom.

All right, now that we’ve got “second fiddle” the idiom under our belt, let’s read a few media examples:

1. Prince Harry’s new book will blast the system that left him playing “spare” to his older brother and heir to the throne Prince William.

The Duke of Sussex, 38, will lift the lid on his row with the Prince of Wales, 40, and complain of the unfairness of playing second fiddle to him.

The explosive book – called Spare and published next week – is set to go further than his £80million Netflix docuseries and give a detailed blow-by-blow account of their falling out.

Prince William and his wife Kate, the Princess of Wales, have always maintained a dignified silence on the row and will respond to the latest allegations by committing themselves to their public duties.

William has barely spoken to his younger brother for three years.

Their father King Charles, 74 – who met crowds in Sandringham yesterday – is expected to avoid the worst of Harry’s anger when the book is published next Tuesday.

Harry has been warned that Charles’s wife, Queen Consort Camilla, 75, is his “red line”.

A source said: “At the heart of this book lies a sibling rivalry between little brother and big brother.

“It will reveal Harry’s bitterness and feelings of unfairness that by the nature of hierarchy and birthright that he always played second fiddle to older William.

“The falling out is to be covered in the book in detail and what aggravates is it’s not an outsider revealing these private moments – it’s Harry giving his one-sided account of family affairs.

“Harry and William were meant to stick together and support each other.

“Their mother Diana always warned them they must never fall out because they would need one another. It is very sad it’s reached this stage.”

- Prince Harry will blast William and moan he was forced to play second fiddle to older brother in explosive new book, TheSun.co.uk, January 1, 2023.

2. David Beckham has proven that he is happy to play the long game when it comes to recruiting for Inter Miami, and after he was pictured with another star of the Spanish game, it has been suggested that he might be at it again.

Several years their courtship of Lionel Messi lasted before the great Argentine finally landed in Miami, but now he has been pictured with a current Real Madrid star. As per Caught Offside, Luka Modric was pictured with Beckham on the Croatian island of Spain, where the two were pictured. They speculate over whether he could be the next to swap Spain for South Beach.

Modric has returned to action with Real Madrid, although not as much action as he had hoped. The Croatian has so far played second fiddle to the likes of Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga this season, with reports that Carlo Ancelotti has told him that his role will be reduced this season.

The flipside is that Inter Miami would probably need to make several moves in order to bring Modric, even if it were next season. Following the additions of Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi, Miami have stretched their resources to the limit in terms of designated players. In all likelihood, one would have to leave in order to facilitate Modric’s arrival, although as with Messi, some stretching of the rules is clearly possible.

- David Beckham pictured with Real Madrid star amid exit speculation, Football-Espana.net, August 28, 2023.

3. 1854 began the destruction of the Second American Party System. When Democrats fought to accept Kansas as a slave state, they were able to claim the mantle of the slavery party. Southern Whigs who supported slavery just as strongly began abandoning their party rather than looking soft on the institution. With the Whig Party crumbling, Northern Whigs began shopping around for a new party and many of them joined with the newly created Republican Party.

When the 1820 Compromise was repealed to allow the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, many Whigs were furious and joined with anti-slavery Democrats and members of the small Liberty Party to form the new Republican Party – the same Republican Party we have today.

This party differed from all its predecessors in two major ways. It was a sectional party that only had membership from the North – mostly old Whigs. Although the new Republican Party had similar planks in their platforms as their Whig colleagues, their primary issue was stopping the expansion of slavery into new territories. Another element that set this party apart from previous ones was that a percentage of its members were part of the new abolitionist movement which for the first time called slavery a moral sin that needed eradication.


During the war, the South became a one-party nation with the Democratic Party in complete control. The North remained a strongly two-party system, with both Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans were able to hold onto both Congress and the presidency during the war, including a second win for Lincoln. After the war, Democrats remained strong nationally but continued to play second fiddle to Republicans.

Between 1860 with and 1932 Republicans held the White House for all but the 16 years of Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. That’s 56 years for Republicans and 16 for Democrats. Finally, in the 1896 election, Democrats were forced to change their ideology in an attempt to regain power.

- History of American Politics, Parties, Part IX: The Politics of War, TheHendersonNews.com, December 22, 2023.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣   编辑:丹妮)


Killer instinct? 杀手本能


Chicken soup? 鸡汤


What’s the deal? 这是怎么回事?


Split your sides? 笑破肚皮


Off message? 偏离政治立场

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