In Dutch, we have a saying 'Een toontje lager zingen' which basically means that the person should sing a bit lower, a.k.a "take it down a notch" or "put someone in his place".

Sing a bit lower is an almost literal translation from dutch. The phrase doesn't have to do anything with singing.

An example would go like this:

John is being pretty arrogant and offensive. He's stating things he doesn't know anything about, but pretends he does. He's talking down to other people, etc.

Then someone else comes in and burns him pretty good. Not by being mean, but by correcting him with actual true statements, where he was wrong.

Now this person put him in his place and made John 'een toontje lager laten zingen', a.k.a. sing a bit lower.

Is there an equivalent phrase or idiom to this in English? Or is it exactly "take it down a notch"?

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    The question title says "take it down a notch" however the body talks about taking a person down a notch, and these are two different usages. Taking a person down a notch corresponds to phrases like "take the wind out of his sales" however with the pronoun it, the phrase is more likely to mean reduce the volume, lower the intensity, or calm down. Clarification of the question title would be good.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:46
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    @barbecue That's "sails"--but otherwise, I agree completely.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:51
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    That exists. Just change notch to peg or two. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 21:03
  • 3
    Just use the phrase "take it down a notch".
    – Marcin
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 21:55
  • 2
    @1006a the OP can edit his post as he thinks fit, but IMO take someone down a notch can never mean "sing lower", whereas "take it down a notch" could be a passable translation. The title is now different from the example in the body that is slightly confusing.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 7:22

9 Answers 9


In the context of singing, one can certainly ask someone to "take it down a notch" to reduce their prominence in an ensemble. It wouldn't be particularly polite, so how that request was delivered would be important.

In the case of deflating someone's arrogance, we might say that he had been taken down a peg or two, which is certainly similar to the Dutch expression.

The two expressions are kept separate in English, though. Notch would be for volume; pegs for position.

take someone down a peg or two

Make someone realize that they are less talented or important than they think are.


  • 2
    In the words on my youth, "Dude, take a chill-pill yo!" Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 13:55
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    You would tell John to "take it down a notch" and, by doing so, you have taken him down a peg or two. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 15:02
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    My favourite Scottish colloquialism is "put (a person's) gas at a peep" i.e. turn down the gas to a low setting so that a large burning flame is reduced to a tiny flame that just peeps from the burner. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 15:27
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    "Notch" and "peg" actually are almost interchangeable, according to Dictionary.com. It's the object of "take down" that makes all the difference: "Mary took John down" and "John took it down" both may have to do with John's arrogance, but the first is Mary's response to the arrogance and the second is John's self-regulation.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:59
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    The question was explicitly about singing when I answered it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 19:02

I would cut them down to size

To deflate the self-importance of (someone)


Cut down to size implies that the persons self importance is the thing that has been tackled, rather than necessarily what they are saying.

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    That's a good one. Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 12:56
  • That’s the expression that was on the tip of my tongue but refused to brave passing through the gap in my teeth! Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 16:45
  • This is very commonly used.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 17:14
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    If the person asking the question is looking for an american colloquialism that means what he described, I think 'cut them down to size' does it. As far as I'm concerned, I hear "take them down a notch" more than "take them down a peg or two" but I'd consider them synonymous. Some how, taking them down a notch seems like a pretty gentle move but it seems like the phrase has some real bite to it still in Holland (sounds like it takes them down a number of notches!). A notch might not bring much humility but cutting them down to size would.
    – Tom22
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 4:05

"Tone down" or "Tone it down" is an expression you may consider

Meaning of "tone something down" is the following as per thefreedictionary.com

"to cause something to have less of an impact on the senses of sight or sound; to lessen the impact of something prepared for public performance or consumption"

Example Usage: "This is rather shocking. You had better tone it down a bit" or "Tone down this paragraph"


I've heard lots of phrases used in these contexts, several pretty similar to your Dutch saying. For a loud singer/talker, you can say:

Bring it down a notch/peg/bit
Turn the volume down (figuratively referring to a radio/speaker)
Keep it down

If someone confronts an arrogant person and forces some humility into them, you can say they:

Brought him down a notch/peg
Knocked him off his high horse

Another use I can think of for phrases like this would be for someone with outrageous ideas:

Get your head out of the clouds
Bring it back down to Earth

And it's not as similar, but in the case of humbling an arrogant person, I'm also a fan of the phrase:

Put him in his place

  • Upvoted for "put him in his place" which captures the sense of giving someone a reality check when they are being arrogant or overbearing.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 17:17

There is the BrE expression "put a sock in it", which really means shut up (or make less noise). It is commonly assumed to come from the early days of mechanical gramophones (record players), when the only viable means of reducing the volume was to stuff something, such as a sock, into the horn (loudspeaker). See: Origin of the phrase 'put a sock in it.'

put a sock in it! - informal humorous

used to tell someone to be quiet or stop making so much noise:

  • Hey, put a sock in it, will you? I'm trying to work here.

Cambridge Dictionary


He made John take a step back and reconsider.

step back v. 2. To withdraw from something, especially to consider it from a wider perspective:
Let's step back from the project for a moment and admire all that we have accomplished.
Rather than arguing about every detail, they should step back and determine what is really important
- The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs.

  • 2
    This is basically UD's definition of Check yourself before you wreck yourself
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 0:08
  • @Mazura Cheers- I hadn't heard that phrase before but I see it has (as of today) 603 up-votes on UD ! I must be getting out of touch !!
    – k1eran
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 0:13
  • @Mazura Or as I’ve frequently heard it said, in atrociously mangled pseudo-Shakespearean: “Check thyself before thy wreck thyself!” (*shudder*) Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 16:46

I would like to suggest the phrase "get a hold of yourself".

From Merriam-Webster

: to get control of ones' thoughts and emotions and stop behaving in a foolish or uncontrolled way

This is often said to people who are speaking in a pompas manor. There are also variations, such as "get a grip on yourself".

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    In my experience this phrase is not usually applied to people who are being pompous, it's more likely used when someone is agitated, panic-stricken, or excessively ebullient.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 17:15

Since he's often wrong, John should pump the brakes on his constant criticism and corrections.

From the Urban Dictionary:

pump the brakes

to tell someone to slow down when trying to jump conclusions about someone or something; to slow your role; to caution another concerning any particular matter

  • I am sure you could find a more reputable source than urban dictionary. It is not well-regarded here. Also, pictures which are non-essential to explaining your post are subject to removal. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 23:42
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    This is not a common expression.
    – J...
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 0:36
  • I've heard "put the brakes on" used to mean "stop and think about what you are planning to do" or "whoa, let's not be hasty" but I have never heard "pump the brakes" in the same context.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 20:51

For a thematic connection with the original: he changed his tune.

For example: John was boasting about his chess skills, but when I told him my FIDE rating, he changed his tune.

It's not an exact match, but it may fit your purpose.

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