Is there a verb which means the same as "to dumb down" or "to make milder", in relation to an account of something I had witnessed? More specifically, a verb which describes telling your account of something you witnessed in a milder form so as to not scare the other person and "play down" the event.

8 Answers 8


If the intent of the eyewitness is to make the event sound less horrifying to the listener, soft-pedal, minimize, or sugar-coat might work.

  • +1 Missed your sugarcoat reference before posting my deleted one. Suggest you add references (usually links to online dictionaries or other works) which is the preferred approach in this site.
    – bib
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:53


to treat or speak of (something) so as to reduce emphasis on its importance, value, strength, etc.: The press has downplayed the president's role in the negotiations.

Another verb is de-emphasize


Another option is understate.

  1. to state something with less completeness than needed; to minimise or downplay

People often refer to a sanitized / sanitised account if it omits or downplays sensational, upsetting, or incriminating (to the speaker) details in the events being recounted.

Dumbing down is an informal term for simplification - a completely different concept.


What about soften?


  1. To make something soft or softer.
  2. To undermine the morale of someone (often soften up).
  3. To make less harsh
    • Having second thoughts, I softened my criticism.
  4. To become soft or softer

To "simplify" something means to make it easier to understand.

  • It's close, but I'm looking for a verb which describes making a statement milder with the sole intention of not worrying/scaring the other person by making what I saw seem milder or less serious. I'll edit the question.
    – LibEden
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:43
  • 1
    @LibEden "Dumbing it down" is not the proper phrase to use in that case. To "dumb something down" means to make it less difficult to understand, not to reduce the frightening quality of a statement.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 20:44

In the very specific sense of removing anything that would be considered vulgar or offensive to the audience, especially anything sexual: 'Bowdlerize', after Thomas Bowdler who thought to censor Shakespeare.

  • Your answer would get more vote if it provided a quotation, source, a definition etc.
    – P. O.
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 19:51

Numb, as in being less felt, less painful.

  • You numb a story to make it less alarming? Really?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 9:11
  • I like it. Never heard it used before, but I have heard of innovation and creative writing. :-)
    – DcShank
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 15:47

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