Posted by: Jack Henry | March 9, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Pedal, Peddle, and Petal

The other day, one of you mentioned the frequency with which you were seeing people use the phrase “soft-peddle” intending to mean “de-emphasize.” If you look at that closely and really think about what peddle means, that is actually referring to “soft selling” something. Here are the three pedal/peddle/petal homophones (from the Grammarist), some common idiomatic phrases (from the Free Dictionary), and a link to an article on this topic from Oxford English Dictionaries.


§ Pedal always relates to bicycles, pianos, organs, boats, looms, sewing machines, and other machines. The pedals are the foot-operated components. The word also functions as a verb meaning to operate pedals. Its participles are pedaled and pedaling in American English. Outside the U.S., they are pedalled and pedalling.

§ Peddle is a verb meaning to sell or to travel about selling goods. It often refers to the sale of illicit goods.

§ And petal is easy. It is always a noun referring to one of the colored parts of a flower surrounding the reproductive organs.

Idiomatic Phrases:

§ (put) the pedal to the metal

To make something go forward or increase as fast as possible.

Ingrid put the pedal to the metal and finished writing her essay a day early.

§ back-pedal

To quickly and often abruptly reverse or retreat from one’s position or opinion on a given subject. Refers to pedaling backwards on a bicycle (done to apply the brakes on fixed-gear bikes), or to taking quick, backward steps, as in football or boxing.

The actor had to back-pedal when he let slip a racist remark during the press conference.

§ soft-pedal something

To play something down; to de-emphasize something. (Alludes to the soft pedal on the piano, which reduces the volume.)

Try to soft-pedal the problems we have with the cooling system. I won’t soft-pedal anything. Everyone must know the truth.


Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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