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See also: lowkey and low key


A low-key photograph of a cat.

Alternative forms[edit]


From low +‎ key.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈləʊki/, /ˌləʊˈkiː/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈloʊˈki/, /ˌloʊˈki/, (occasionally) /ˈloʊki/
  • (file)
  • Homophone: Loki (in some pronunciations)
  • Rhymes: -əʊki


low-key (comparative more low-key, superlative most low-key)

  1. (art, photography) Dark; characterised by dark tones and muted colours. [from 19th c.]
    Antonym: high-key
    Coordinate term: mid-key
    • 1942 November, Victor Keppler, “Key to Good Pictures”, in Popular Photography, →ISSN, page 98:
      The classic example of low key photography is a black cat in a coal cellar. [] The most popular use of low-key photography is in making portraits of celebrities or theatrical personalities. These people demand either dignity or drama, and this type of lightning is appropriate for both.
  2. (by extension) Restrained, subtle, not trying to attract attention. [from 20th c.]
    Antonyms: see Thesaurus:gaudy
    She deserves an Oscar for her low-key performance in that movie.
    • 1984 November 18, Patricia Brooks, “Specials Best at Low-Key Spot”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      For a low-key, somewhat predictable meal, dinner at Basem's offers good value.
    • 2017 November 14, Phil McNulty, “England 0-0 Brazil”, in BBC News[2]:
      From the Samba band and colourfully-clad dancers that made a lap of Wembley before kick-off - even prompting some neat moves from one or two Brazilian journalists - to the roars of delight every time Neymar got on the ball, it was still a night that contained entertainment despite the increasingly low-key fare on the pitch.
    • 2023 October 18, Chris Howe, “Network News: Headbolt Lane station opens on Merseyrail”, in RAIL, number 994, page 22:
      The relatively low-key opening was attended by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, who declared "We have a brand-new station serviced with brand-new lines and new publicly owned trains.



low-key (comparative more low-key, superlative most low-key)

  1. (Canada, US, colloquial) Kind of.
    • 2015, Lady Onyxx, Started From The Top Now I'm Here 3, page 81:
      I'm low key salty about the way that nigga did you but it seems like he still cares about you.
    • 2018, Rachel Vincent, Strange New World:
      Before I open the messages, I disable the activity notification so no one will know I'm low-key obsessed with a party I didn't get to attend.
  2. (slang) In a low-key or surreptitious manner; secretively; on the down-low.
    Synonym: furtively

Further reading[edit]