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  • WordNet 3.6
    • n undertone a pale or subdued color
    • n undertone a subdued emotional quality underlying an utterance; implicit meaning
    • n undertone a quiet or hushed tone of voice "spoke in undertones"
    • ***
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
    • n Undertone A low or subdued tone or utterance; a tone less loud than usual.
    • ***
Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    • n undertone In musical acoustics: Same as combinational tone (which see, under tone), One of a series of tones reckoned downward from a given tone in exactly the same way that the series of overtones or harmonics is reckoned upward. The interval from the given tone to the first undertone is an octave; to the second, an octave and a fifth; to the third, two octaves, etc. (See cut.) While this series is not actually heard in any case, yet it is claimed by many theorists recently that the relations involved are sufficiently felt to explain the minor mode as in a true sense an inversion or polar opposite of the major. Hence has arisen a large number of terms beginning with under-, denoting intervals and chords regarded downward corresponding with the usual names of intervals and chords regarded upward. See cut under harmonic, n., 1.
    • n undertone A low or subdued tone; a tone less forcible than is usual, as in speaking: as, to say something in an undertone.
    • n undertone A state or degree of tone, as of the physical or mental faculties, below their usual condition. The color of a pigment when seen in very thin layers on a white or light-colored surface. Also— A low, subdued color: as, gray undertones.
    • ***
Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
    • n Undertone un′dėr-tōn a low tone: a low state of the physical faculties: a low, subdued colour
    • ***


In literature:

Then, in an undertone, to the Doctor, 'Quick, the pistols.
"Continental Monthly, Vol. I. February, 1862, No. II." by Various
Outside, Happy Jack was protesting in what he believed to be an undertone against being installed in Patsy's place.
"The Happy Family" by Bertha Muzzy Bower
They stood talking in an undertone.
"Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Vol. 2 of 14" by Elbert Hubbard
That fine demonstration in Jay's honor was in great part to overwhelm and stamp out the undertone of growl and snarl that filled the air.
"Little Journeys To the Homes of the Great, Volume 3 (of 14)" by Elbert Hubbard
Not through the papers, but secretly, in an undertone and with a hushed voice.
"The Sunny Side of Diplomatic Life, 1875-1912" by Lillie DeHegermann-Lindencrone
Ferdy Wickersham said something to her in an undertone, and she held out her hand to the girl.
"Gordon Keith" by Thomas Nelson Page
For a few moments none of those left on the steps spoke, except to fret in undertones for an absent carriage.
"The Marriage of William Ashe" by Mrs. Humphry Ward
And then he turned to the dominie, speaking with him in an undertone.
"The Pilots of Pomona" by Robert Leighton
Jimmie Time muttered evilly in undertones and slouched forward, head down.
"Somewhere in Red Gap" by Harry Leon Wilson
Vespers were just ended; the low chant had reached my ears, and I missed the soothing undertone.
"The Doctor's Dilemma" by Hesba Stretton
The dead below had music, and violets in the blowing grass, and the undertone of the river.
"Audrey" by Mary Johnston
The Black Eagle," he added, in an undertone; "it is unchanged these twenty years.
"The Goose Girl" by Harold MacGrath
As they came near the exhibit from Germany Lulu exclaimed in an undertone.
"Elsie at the World's Fair" by Martha Finley
The Princess, still not relieved, observed in an undertone that 'she had never seen so villanous a countenance'.
"A Wanderer in Holland" by E. V. Lucas
Then an even fainter noise slowly became audible, a crackling undertone as of silken banners rustling.
"The Silent Places" by Steward Edward White
Radley turned round and, having seen me, said something in an undertone to Chappy.
"Tell England" by Ernest Raymond
Did he not detect a slight undertone of irony or satire in the voice of Bernardo Galvez?
"The Free Rangers" by Joseph A. Altsheler
But for the sake of the undertone.
"The Hoosier Schoolmaster" by Edward Eggleston
Few words were spoken, and all in guarded undertones.
"Dewey and Other Naval Commanders" by Edward S. Ellis
Masco sat down to talk with Zoya, and Scorpa spoke to Derby in an undertone.
"The Title Market" by Emily Post

In poetry:

Do they want a song that is only a song,
With no mystical meanings rife?
Or a music that solemnly moves along --
The undertone of a life!
"A Christmas Chant" by Abram Joseph Ryan
Her life was earnest work, not play;
Her tired feet climbed a weary way;
And even through her lightest strain
We heard an undertone of pain.
"The Singer" by John Greenleaf Whittier
Through his verse the orphans cry --
The terrible undertone --
And the father's curse and the mother's sigh,
And the desolate young wife's moan.
"Sentinel Songs" by Abram Joseph Ryan
And at the sight my heart is beating
With rapture hitherto unknown,
As with delight I keep repeating
In love's triumphant undertone,--
"All this is mine, my very own"!
"My Garden" by John Lawson Stoddard
Beside him strangely a piece of the dark
Had moved, and the undertones
Of a priest in prayer, like a cavernous wave,
He heard, as were there a soul to save
For urgency now in the groans.
"The Young Princess -- A Ballad Of Old Laws Of Love" by George Meredith
Spoke in an undertone a kind of prayer,
His eyes to heaven, where the licking flames grew long,
Till a frightful thunder resounded above the glare
And made an end of the gladness and the song.
"Crimen Amoris" by Clark Ashton Smith

In news:

Roshunda Johnson enjoyed a joyous day Wednesday, but there were several somber undertones on the day that the 5-8 point guard signed a basketball scholarship with Oklahoma State.
He says the show had "sinister undertones" - plus, Christian Bale, Al Pacino and others tell THR what they thought of host Ricky Gervais.
Council's move has political undertone .
It saddens me to see women walking around wearing the wrong type of foundation for their skin undertone.
Looking for a late-summer read that's light and humorous with a serious undertone.
Exploding Washington farce has dark undertones.
Controversy over a new Microsoft patent has people questioning whether or not the intention has racist undertones.
Orbital 's music has always had classical undertones to it.
Well this was just a JOKE with serious undertones that I believed in.
Redistricting may have racist undertones.
While one song samples a Notorious BIG's Respect, others take on a jazzy undertone.
A new video game called "Enslaved" is being criticized for its racial undertones.
Some patrons choose to slurp the dark rum float from the top before consumption, but I suggest mixing it in—the rum 's undertones of nutmeg, vanilla, and other spices complete the drink.
NATIONAL NEWS (CNN) — After a heated campaign season, lawmakers expressed gratitude in their Thanksgiving remarks but not without the political undertones of an economy limping back to life and impending fiscal crisis.
Regardless of your coloring and undertones, it's always best to match the shade to your skin .

In science:

There is a slight prescriptive undertone in the work of Vinay and Darbelnet, because they state that oblique procedures should only be used if a more direct one would lead to a wrong or awkward translation.
Building a resource for studying translation shifts