Green’s Dictionary of Slang

play v.

1. to trick, to deceive.

[UK]Skelton Agenst Garnesche v line 37: Soche pajantes with your fryndes ye play, With trechery ye them betray.
[UK]Nashe Death and Buriall of Martin Mar-Prelate in Works I (1883–4) 201: Play still the desperate and shameles Swadds as you haue begonn; for you couch your Coddheads.
[UK]J. Poole Hamlet Travestie II ii: Od’s life, D’ye think I’m easier play’d on than a fife? I’m not the booby you may think.
[UK]R. Barham ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Ingoldsby Legends (1842) 51: Lord Bassanio [...] In the morning ‘made play,’ / And without more delay, / Started off in the steam-boat for Belmont next day.
[US]Army Police Record in Annals of the Army of the Cumberland 585: Inquiries [...] disclosed the fact that Stewart was a rebel of the deepest dye and had been ‘playing off’ all the time.
[US]Scribner’s Monthly XV 812/1: Ye went back on her, and shook her, and played on her, and gave her away—dead away! [DA].
[US](con. c.1840) ‘Mark Twain’ Huckleberry Finn 226: They ain’t a-going to leave till they’ve played this family and this town for all they’re worth.
[UK]Aberdeen Eve. Exp. 7 Oct. 4/1: Don’t you see how I played it on him!
[US]‘Mark Twain’ Tom Sawyer, Detective 68: You’re right; play it on us, too; play it on us same as the others.
[US]‘Old Sleuth’ Dock Rats of N.Y. (2006) 114: ‘I’m your man! Now, what information have you got for me?’ ‘You can’t play me,’ said the fellow. ‘No; nor can you play me. Listen: how much are you to get for laying me out?’.
[US] ‘Minnie May’ in J.J. Niles Singing Soldiers (1927) 35: Now Abner didn’t mind dat gal rompin’ aroun’ / But when she played ’im double, he put ’er under de groun’.
[UK]N. Lucas London and its Criminals 30: She hoped to ‘play’ him for a much larger sum later.
[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 85: He told me that he was playing the people, meaning that he was playing a con-racket – getting subscriptions for the mission – and keeping half for himself.
[US]R. Chandler Farewell, My Lovely (1949) 248: I bet it’s fun to be played by handsome blondes.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 159/2: Play, v. 1. To prepare to victimize, especially as the victim of a swindle; to mulct slowly and with restraint, as a victim of swindling or extortion.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Sat. Night and Sun. Morning 160: Them bastards downstairs really played one on me this time.
[US] ‘Duriella du Fontaine’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 45: She’s real down, known all around; / Playing is her stick.
[US] (con. 1950s) D. Goines Whoreson 157: I knew I had been born to play.
[UK]C. Newland Scholar 77: Don’t feel fe one second dat me a play, or ramp wid you y’know.
[US]C. Goffard Snitch Jacket 159: He’s a conman, a crook trying to play you.
[UK]Mail On Line 27 Jan. [Internet] She is cold-blooded [...] talking about all the n****s she got and how she played them.
[US]‘Dutch’ ? (Pronounced Que) [ebook] You tryin’ to play me, B?!
[US]C. Eble (ed.) UNC-CH Campus Sl. Spring 2016 7: PLAYED — taken advantage of, fooled, deceived: ‘You fall for that? You just got played’.
C. Hammer Scrublands [ebook] ‘I’m going to keep Jack’s little fuck-up out of the investigation — the bit where be got played by Snouch’.

2. (also play turnabout) to pursue sexually; to seduce; to engage in sexual activity .

[UK]Hickscorner Civ: And of the stewes I am made controller Of all the houses of lechery There shall no man playe doccy there [...] without they haue leaue of me.
[UK]Pennyless Parliament of Thread-bare Poets 67: Some shall suspect their Wives at Home, because they themselves play false Abroad.
[UK]L. Barry Ram-Alley IV i: Can you play better?
[UK]J. Shirley School of Complement II i: bub.: Where is your daughter, sir? there is no Musick without her, she is the best Instrument to play upon. ruf.: And you shall have her between your legs presently. bub.: I had as liefe be betwixt hers, for all that.
[UK]T. Killigrew Parson’s Wedding (1664) IV i: She is a right broken Gamester, who, though she lacks wherewithal to play, yet loves to be looking on.
[UK] ‘The Four-legg’d Quaker’ Rump Poems and Songs (1662) I 358: Yet this is ten times worse; / For then a Dog did play the Man, / But Man now play’d the Horse.
[Ire] ‘The Gobbio’ Chap Book Songs 7: Dear Sir, I like well your company, / When you play again I pray march slow, / And a guard-house make of my Gobbio-O.
[UK] Burns ‘Tweedmouth Town’ Merry Muses of Caledonia (1965) 195: Shall we, quo they, ne’er sport or play, / Nor wag our tails again.
[UK]Friar and Boy 29: I may fix a ringing bell / In every woman’s snout / Who does the wagtail wanton play / With friars in the dark.
[US] in E. Cray Erotic Muse (1992) 69: I played with her for quite some time, and learned to my surprise, / She was nothing but a fire ship rigged up in a disguise.
[US](con. 1918) J. Stevens Mattock 277: I told myself I was playin’ her on your account.
[US]Cliff Edwards ‘That’s My Weakness Now’ [lyrics] She likes to park and play, / I never liked to park and play, / But I guess we’d better park and play, / So that’s my weakness now.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Capricorn (1964) 67: In the dark we begin to play with each other.
[US] in E. Cray Erotic Muse (1992) 54: I am growing old and gray every year. / And I have less urge to play every year.
[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Tomboy (1952) 163: Jiggs was trying to play me when Tomboy opened the door and saw us.
[Aus]J. Walker No Sunlight Singing (1966) 194: ‘You watch yourself, mate,’ cautioned Les. ‘Remember you’re in Darwin now, not W.A. It’s dynamite if you’re caught playing with abos in this town.’.
[UK]J. Colebrook Cross of Lassitude 120: ‘You playing?’ Sugar asks [...] Baby blushes, or at least her cheeks become moister and ruddier. The word ‘playing,’ with its sexual connotation, suggests also the innocence of those who ‘play,’ and the boredom which makes ‘playing’ necessary.
[SA]IOL News (SA) 27 Mar. [Internet] She alleges that he later came to her desk, took out his penis and said, ‘Come play with me’.

3. to be involved in an affair outside one’s primary relationship.

[UK] ‘The Lord of the Country’ in Holloway & Black II (1979) 52: Because she was handsome & willing for to play / In the morning, or the evening, or the noon time of the day.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘In Vino Veritas’ Sporting Times 30 June 1/4: I wonder if your better half knows that you / Are out—what shall I call it?—out playing!
[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 69: ‘How was she?’ ‘Bare. She wanted to play. I didn’t.’.
[US] in S. Harris Hellhole 235: I might play with a femme or several femmes for the money they’ve got [...] So what I mean is, when I play in jail, it’s got nothing to do with Patricia, really.
[US]A.N. LeBlanc Random Family 163: He was calculating about playing girls.

4. to conduct oneself; to approach a situation; to act in a certain way; thus play it... v.

[US]Ade Artie (1963) 78: Do n’t be leary about cuttin’ in. Just play you owned the house.
[US]G.M. Cohan Twenty Years on Broadway 46: Josie, as she said this, gave me the high sign to ‘play dead’.
[US]W.R. Burnett Little Caesar (1932) 12: You play like you don’t know them.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 209: You could have done what you liked with me as long as you played straight.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 326: Let me play him solo.
[US]L. Pettiway Workin’ It 117: She don’t play that drug thing in her house or none of that.
[UK]M. Dibdin Thanksgiving 15: Don’t try playing the hick with me.

5. to manipulate, to exploit, to ‘use’ someone.

[US]B. Harte Luck of Roaring Camp 10: It’s playing it pretty low down on this yer baby to ring in fun on him that he ain’t going to understand.
[US]B. Harte Heritage of Dedlow Marsh 100: The folks you trust is playing it on ye [DA].
[US]Ade Forty Modern Fables 302: His Son got hold of him and began to beat it into him that he had been Played.
[UK]Wodehouse Clicking of Cuthbert 88: I tell you, I played on them as on a stringed instrument.
[US]E.H. Lavine Third Degree (1931) 149: Benny Sternberg ‘played’ the Orpheum Theatre matinées for prospects.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 79: She ‘plays’ him until they [i.e. criminal plans] are more definite.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 41: These gals usually play circuits, working west from New York in groups of ten or twenty.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 75: If your game is strong, you could play a ‘hog’ outta her ass.
[US]UGK ‘Use Me Up’ [lyrics] I used to be the playa, now I’m gettin pimped [...] Why I let her play me? You cain’t understand!
[US]‘Master Pimp’ Pimp’s Rap 21: Pimps might pimp and players might play but bitches will always be bitches.
[US]G. Pelecanos Night Gardener 28: He chided her for [...] how she let him play her [...] how she always gave in to his wants.

6. (US) to treat someone as.

[US]M. Rand ‘Clip-Joint Chisellers’ in Ten Story Gang Aug. [Internet] Here I’ve been taking care of that damned Blinkie guy, playing him for a half-wise scout and not letting him get taken.
[UK]R.M. Rogers Long White Cloud 194: The little finger played over to the thumb on the mutilated hand. ‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘You didn’t do it out of playin’ sweet jesus, though.’.

7. (orig. US) to cooperate, to comply, to accept, to tolerate, to make sense; usu. as negative I don’t play that, that doesn’t play.

[US]R. Chandler ‘Goldfish’ in Red Wind (1946) 173: ‘My ante is in,’ she said quietly. ‘I’ll play.’.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 142: The rest of the boys were willing to play.
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 45: Johnny Friendly had warned him, but he wouldn’t play.
[US]H. Simmons Corner Boy 110: Mister, I don’t play that.
[US]N. Heard Howard Street 65: I don’t play that junk, man, and you better know.
[US]D. Goines Daddy Cool (1997) 91: I don’t play this kind of shit!
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 304: He dresses and looks and walks the same way every kid he knows does; it plays on the corner, but nowhere else.
[US]A.N. LeBlanc Random Family 247: There are a lot of dummies up here [...] In the city, they ain’t playing that.

8. to mock, to make fun of, to tease; thus play oneself [1970s+ use is mainly US black].

[Aus]E. Kinglake Austral. at Home 117: Those who pass their lives in the bush generally have their heart in the right place, though they do love to play a new chum .
[US]H.F. Wood ‘Justice in a Quandary’ in Good Humor 177: Say, Jedge, don’t you play me. I’m giving it to you straight!
[US]D. Claerbut Black Jargon in White America 75: playing v. kidding; jesting; teasing.
[US]L. Bing Do or Die (1992) 51: He kept playin’ me – you know, teasin’ me.
[US]J. Lerner You Got Nothing Coming 74: All I’m sayin’ to you is that when some motherfucking two-ton toad gets up in your face, starts [...] playing you, you’re gonna want some righteous woods to stand up for you.

9. (US drugs) to adulterate.

[US](con. 1982–6) T. Williams Cocaine Kids (1990) 37: Masterrap and me played with that package forever, we worked it to death [cut it as far as they could].

In compounds

play-white (n.)

(S.Afr.) one who attempts to ‘pass’ as white.

[SA]Drum (Johannesburg) Aug. 6: These ‘Colourpeans,’ as they have been dubbed, can never hope to fool their own people. They are easily recognised for what they are, but most Coloureds are not malicious and allow these ‘Playwhites’ to have things their own way [DSAE].
[UK]T. Hopkinson In the Fiery Continent 78: Probably at least one member in every Off-White family is a Play-White.
G.D. Killam African Writers on African Writing 40: At the end of the book Flood’s great-great-grandson, Barry Lindsell, who is what we would now call a play-white, in South Africa, makes the decision to give his life to atone.
[SA]A. Dangor ‘Shadow of Paradise’ in Waiting for Leila (2001) 129: He’s a blackie like me. A playwhite.
[SA]Z. Wicomb You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town 4: I wouldn’t be surprised if he were Coloured, from Cape Town I suppose, a play white . . .

In phrases

play along (v.) (orig. US)

1. to agree, to cooperate.

[US]C. Coe Hooch! 58: I ain’t unreasonable. I want to play along with you.
[US]N. Davis ‘Don’t Give Your Right Name’ in Goulart (1967) 29: You played right along with me by moving the body.
[US]E. De Roo Go, Man, Go! 41: She would play along with Beano and treat Paul as a stranger.
[US](con. 1960s) R. Price Wanderers 88: Anyways, I figure I’ll play along.
[UK]M. Amis London Fields 116: The weather is certainly playing along and doing its bit.
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 305: Dre, I’m sayin’ you got to play along a little bit.

2. to deceive gradually, to ‘take for a ride’.

[US]E. Anderson Thieves Like Us (1999) 64: I played him along.
[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 106: She met them both in the diner and has been playing them along.
[UK]Indep. 13 July 5: He had resolved to try to play along with Mr Vincent to expose his contacts.
[Ire]F. Mac Anna Cartoon City 148: I need to know if you’re serious about us. Or are you going to go on playing me along like this until we fizzle out?
play around (v.) (orig. US)

1. to indulge in sexual play.

[US]A.C. Inman 15 Aug. diary in Aaron (1985) 160: About two years ago Helen got playin’ around [...] with a fellow.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl.
[UK]P. Cheyney Don’t Get Me Wrong (1956) 34: I was wonderin’ why a dame who has got what this dame has, should be playin’ around with a guy like Dominguez.
[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 93: Hell, with all the free stuff coming through here who’s going to play around in those bug mills?
[US]A. James America’s Homosexual Underground 36: My first sex experience [...] was with the boy next door. I tried the same thing with my brother, just playing around.
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 116: He’d serve a customer and then stop to play around.

2. to have a number of affairs, lovers, entanglements.

[US]E. Dahlberg Bottom Dogs 263: Jack Gray, who was a jazzhound in more than one way before his several operations, still played around Solomon’s Dance Palace.
[UK]K. Mackenzie Living Rough 128: He [...] started hitting the booze and playing around with the white dames.
[US]‘F. Bonnamy’ A Rope of Sand (1947) 162: Girls who play around as often as not drive one of their boyfriends to murder.
[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Tomboy (1952) 76: Do you mean to say Happy would pass up a chance if your chick wanted to play around.
[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 189: I’d never played around with any married women before.
[Aus]D. Ireland Burn 5: I’ve never played round in Myoora [...] I never had a go at anything.
[US]T. Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities 56: Had his father ever played around?
[SA]K. Cage Gayle.

3. to seduce.

[US]S. Lewis Arrowsmith 87: I’m so darn’ glad he’s playing around with a girl that’s real folks.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 624: Broads like her [...] must know they look like hell and that a guy would have to be pretty hard up before he tried to play around with them.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 45: There wasn’t a surer way for a doctor to jam himself up than to play around with his nurse.
[US]R. Prather Always Leave ’Em Dying 110: You and I are sure Trammel was playing around with lush little dolls.

4. to play mental or emotional ‘games’ with someone.

[US]Ade Old-Time Saloon 17: No one past the age of fifty can quite fathom the significance of this modern ‘playing around.’ It seems to mean that any young person can do anything as long as violations of the statutes and fractures of the moral law are perpetrated in a spirit of fun and not in earnest.
[UK]K. Howard Small Time Crooks 9: Micky was known around as ‘Dumb Donovan’ and it was kind of funny to see him played around by a dame.
play a store (v.)

(US) to go shoplifiting.

[US](con. 1950s) D. Goines Whoreson 122: I would have to play some stores in the near future.
play away (v.) [sporting imagery]

1. to philander, to commit adultery.

[UK]J. McClure Spike Island (1981) 359: If you start playin’ away with a bird — and you’re dealing with a big-time villain — forget it. He’s got you bang to rights, and straight off he’ll bloody have yer!
[UK]Observer Mag. 15 Aug. 4: Middle-aged football managers who are discovered to have been playing away from home.
[UK]D. Mitchell Black Swan Green 70: You’re saying our mother shagged another man [...] you’re accusing her of playing away.

2. to do something outside one’s experience.

[US](con. 1970s) G. Pelecanos King Suckerman (1998) 33: I gotta be honest with you, I’m playing an away game there.
play bad (v.) (W.I.)

1. of a child, to behave badly, rudely.

[WI]cited in Allsopp Dict. Carib. Eng. Usage (1996).

2. of an adult, to put on a show of defiance.

[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 30: I decided that the next fucking time they threw something at me I was gonna play bad-o and not run.
[WI]F. Collymore Notes for Gloss. of Barbadian Dial. 14: To play bad; to be aggressive or rude. [...] To bad-play is ‘not to play the game’, in other words to be deceitful, even unfaithful, as, Everybody knows she bad-playing she boy friend.
play chaneys (v.) [? SE Chinese, so far as the racial stereotype is concerned, the Chinese person is ‘not straight’]

(Aus.) to exert influence; thus play at chaneys v., to bribe.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 29 Oct. 9/4: The Princess of Wales and Her Gracious are not ‘playing chaneys in the same back-yard’ now. Her Highness is very polite before folk, but she keeps out of her mother-in-law’s way as much as possible.
play diddle-diddle (v.) [pun on SE diddle-diddle, a fiddle/SE to fiddle]

to play tricks, to importune.

[UK]Skelton Garlande or Chapelet of Laurell 740: What blunderar is yonder, that playth didil diddil? He fyndith fals mesuris out of his fonde fiddill.
play dirt (v.)

(US) to deceive.

[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
[UK]P. Marks Plastic Age 200: I tell you right now that you’re turning the fraternity down; you’re playing us dirt.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 712: They played Al dirt.
[US]D. Parker ‘Just a Little One’ in Parker (1943) 68: Practically anybody would play you dirt for a nickel.
play down on (v.)

to take a mean or unfair advantage of.

[US]N.Y. Daily Trib. 7 May 7/5: Willis attempted to ‘play down’ upon the officer, and denied ever having seen him, or having been arrested in the places spoken of by the officer.
play for (v.)

see separate entry.

play for both teams (v.)

(US gay) to be bisexual.

[US]R.P. McNamara Times Square Hustler 42: He claims that bisexuality, or ‘playing for both teams’ does not interest him.
play for the other team (v.)

to be homosexual.

[US]G. Pelecanos Right As Rain 83: To the men at the bar, they were [...] maybe even faggots, the kind of friends who ‘played for the other team’.
R. Bolano 2666 [trans.] 621: The mayor seemed to play for the other team. The assistant attorney general looked limp in the wrist .
play Fourteenth Street (v.) [the cheap shops of New York’s 14th St]

(US black) to disparage, to treat in a condescending manner.

[US]D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive 39: Not playing you 14th Street means I’m not playing you cheap (you can get bargains down there, you know).
play it... (v.)

see separate entry.

play it on (someone) (v.) (also play it off on)

(Aus./UK) to deceive, to trick.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 7 Feb. 7/3: [T]he clergyman proceeded, and inquired if the bridegroom would promise to love, cherish, and protect the bride. ‘In course I do. […] Do you mean to insinuate that I am a playin’ it on to her?’.
[UK]B. Pain De Omnibus 52: It’s ’Ankin as ole Ike mostly goes fur, but ’e’s plyed it off on me afore this.
play low (v.) (also play low down) [lowdown adv.]

(US) to act meanly.

[UK]Referee 15 Aug. in Ware (1909) 198/1: Farewell banquets have lately been played a little low down, but the ‘sendoff’ supper given to Wilson Barrett at the Criterion, on Thursday night, was an exception.
[UK]Sporting Times 1 Feb. 1/1: Spoofing Continental flies is playing it a bit low down.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Dec. Red Page/1: ‘You’ve played it pretty low on me; [...] But I’m damned if I’ll jig lepers up and down the ’Pelago; it’s an outrage on my clean schooner, sir.’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 5 Nov. 1/4: The speedy departure of a Norseman nark is earnestly desired [...] he played it low down in a Hay street fuselry the other night.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘The Dear Loaf’ Sporting Times 29 Jan. 1/4: Well, it’s playin’ it low down, old gal, and as I’m rather dry / You might let me know its hidin’-place.
play off (v.)

1. (also play off one’s dust) to finish a drink, to toss off a glass.

[UK]Shakespeare Henry IV Pt 1 II iv: They call drinking deep, dyeing scarlet; and when you breathe in your watering, they cry, ‘hem!’ and bid you play it off.
[UK]Dekker Jests to Make you Merrie in Grosart Works (1886) II 350: He requested them to play off the sacke and be gon.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues VI 226: To play off one’s dust = to drink.

2. to commit adultery.

[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 35/1: Our pretty hostess who, with the idea that ‘what is good for the goose is good for the gander,’ resolved to ‘play off’ upon the first opportunity.
play on (v.)

1. (also play off on) to trick, to fool.

[UK]B.H. Malkin (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas (1822) II 57: Ah! my liege, give no ear to the surmise. Your majesty is played upon.
[US]E. Custer Tenting on the Plains (rev. edn 1895) 107: When I got better, didn’t he go and say I was playin’ off on him, just to get a big drink of whiskey?
[US]J. Lait Gangster Girl 74: I played on the most dangerous thing in his life—a woman.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 78: On the way she played on me.
[US]D. Goines Dopefiend (1991) 198: The little bitch thinks she’s playing on you.

2. to cheat on sexually, to cuckold.

[UK]J. Colebrook Cross of Lassitude 329: She’d been through all those experiences endemic to the life, been Jonah’ed,’ played-on, Georgia’d’.
[US](con. 1950s) D. Goines Whoreson 189: Don’t no black man want to see no black women get played on.
play oneself (v.)

(US black) to delude oneself as to one’s success, sexuality, character etc, to aggrandize oneself, to humiliate oneself.

[US]C. Himes Real Cool Killers (1969) 122: Don’t play yourself too big, punk [...] You’re just a cheap, tinhorn punk, yellow to the core.
[US]Ice-T ‘You Played Yourself’ [lyrics] How’d you get into this spot? You played yourself.
[US]R.C. Cruz Straight Outta Compton 17: Flip played himself...He was talking rhetoric. Talking trash. Throwing hype. Shootin’ off his fat lip. Running off at the mouth.
[US]Beastie Boys ‘Hey Fuck You’ [lyrics] Put a quarter in your ass ’cos you played yourself.
play out (v.)

1. (orig. US black) to wear out, to lose usefulness, interest, value; usu. as played (out) adj.

[US]H.S. Truman letter 2 Sept. in Ferrell Dear Bess (1983) 135: You are going to get your letter on Tuesday if everything holds together and ink don’t play out.
[US]O. Strange Sudden Takes the Trail 60: Skittles! you couldn’t help yore hoss playin’ out on you.
[US]L. Durst Jives of Dr. Hepcat (1989) 8: I don’t care if a kitty wears iron boots if he beats his gums off time, that’s my cue to play-on-out.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 282: Seattle had played out.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Spring 6: play out – break, cease functioning. My lighter played out last night, so I have to use matches.

2. (US campus) to use so much that it will eventually fade out.

[US]J. Conroy World to Win 198: His money had played out, and he had never made a cent from his writing.

3. to go along with something for the sake of appearance, until it loses its interest or value.

[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 230: Let it play out. Push on the Nite Owl, that’s the one the public wants cleared.
play someone off (v.)

(US) to avoid someone’s attentions through guile.

[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker III 58: If ever you want to read a man, do simple, and he thinks he has a soft horn to deal with; and [...] while he s’poses he is a-playin’ you off, you are puttin’ the leake into him without his seein’ it.
[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Tomboy (1952) 163: I figured I could play him off.
[US]R.C. Cruz Straight Outta Compton 70: ‘How you know?’ [...] He tried to play her off. ‘Don’t worry about how I know,’ he said.
play turnabout (v.)

see sense 2 above.

play white (v.)

(S.Afr.) for a ‘coloured’ person to ‘pass’ as white.

[SA]L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. 83: Coloured ‘broads’ playing White, and ‘White’ girls playing Native.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

play brother (n.)

(US black) an extremely close friend, one who resembles a brother; thus also play cousin, play mother, play sister.

[US]Current Sl. I:2 5/1: Play brother, n. A very close male friend who embodies all the characteristics of a brother, but who is not related by blood.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 250: play brother/cousin/mother/sister Designation for friends who are like real relatives.
[US]T.R. Houser Central Sl. 40/41: play brother/sister Not a real brother/sister by blood, but close enough to be a good male/female friend.
playground (n.) (also chippy’s playground)

(orig. US black) the stomach.

[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 211: Two Sweet was about six-foot-two, with a massive body, his playground sticking out in front of him about two feet. [Ibid.] 219: I gotta stretch my chippy’s playground.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 154: patio over the playground Big belly. Often used in the phrase you ‘can’t play with the toys if there’s a patio over the playground’.
playhouse (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

not playing with a full deck

see separate entry.

play a-cross (v.) (also play across)

(UK Und.) to lose deliberately, so as to lure one’s victim deeper into the game.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 258: play a-cross What is commonly termed playing booty, that is, purposely losing the game, or match, in order to take in the flats who have backed you, [...] while the sharps divide the spoil, in which you have a share. This sort of treachery extends to boxing, racing, and every other species of sport, on which bets are laid; sometimes a sham match is made for the purpose of inducing strangers to bet, which is decided in such a manner that the latter will inevitably lose. A-cross signifies generally any collusion or unfair dealing between several parties.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue [as cit. 1812].
[UK](con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 248: Jerry was a Greek by nature, and could land a flat as well as the best of them. Zoroaster was just the man to lose a fight; at, or, in the language of the Fancy, to play a cross.
play a full hand (v.) [poker imagery]

(US) to act from a position of strength.

[UK]Gem 23 Jan. 2: You’re playin’ a full hand, pardner [...] I guess you take the deck.
play a good stick (v.)

of a fiddler, to perform competently.

[UK]Smollett Roderick Random (1979) 41: You hear he plays a good stick, and is really diverting in company.
play a record (v.)

to boast, to brag.

[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Tomboy (1952) 58: Happy was playing a record about being a big wheel in the Harps.
play back (v.)

(US teen) to think about.

[US]Baltimore Sun (MD) Sun. Mag. 4 Dec. 9/1: ‘Thank,’ she said, somewhat ticked off, but when she played it back she heard it.
play cagey-cannon (v.) [SE cagey; ety. of cannon unknown]

(Irish) to act cautiously.

[Ire]‘Myles na gCopaleen’ Best of Myles (1968) 45: I would play cagey-cannon while that gentleman is in the offing because he would take the shirt off your back and put a cheaper one in its place.
play close (v.)

see separate entry.

play dirty (v.) (also get dirty)

(orig. US) to behave reprehensibly, to cheat.

[US]Day Book (Chicago) 13 Oct. 7/1: [healdine] Trust Papers Play ‘Dirty’ on Parade News.
[US]W. Winchell On Broadway 3 Oct. [synd. col.] No one of [his friends] could bring himself to the point of playing him dirty or digging him in the back.
[US]Kramer & Karr Teen-Age Gangs 61: ‘I ain’t taking none. They get dirty, I get dirty,’ He laughed. ‘Maybe I get dirty before they do.’.
[US](con. 1985–90) P. Bourjois In Search of Respect 230: The women in that family like to play their husbands dirty.
play ducks and drakes with (v.) (also make ducks and drakes of) [SE ducks and drakes, a game based on the tossing of flat stones across a pond; thus in a financial context one is idly tossing away one’s money]

1. to squander one’s fortune, to spend money unwisely.

[UK]Chapman & Jonson Eastward Ho! I i: Wipe thy bum with testons, and make ducks and drakes with shillings.
[UK]Fletcher Chances IV ii: Play at duck and drake with my money?
[UK]H. Peacham Worth of a Penny in Arber Garner VI 259: I remember, in Queen Elizabeth’s time, a wealthy citizen of London left his son a mighty estate in money; who, imagining he should never be able to spend it, would usually make ‘ducks and drakes’ in the Thames, with Twelve pences, as boys are wont to do with tile sherds and oyster shells [F&H].
[UK]Scourge for Poor Robin 8: After he has fool’d away several Guineys abroad, worse than if he had made Ducks and Drakes with them.
[UK]S. Butler Character of a Miser in Remains (1759) II 343: And he that made Ducks and Drakes with his Money enjoyed it every way as much [F&H].
[UK]N. Ward London Spy XIV 372: They hook in the old fool again to make ducks and drakes with his money.
[UK] ‘The Bucket of Water’ in Holloway & Black I (1975) 47: Never make duck and drake of your cash.
[Ire]C. Macklin Man of the World Act IV: My fortune [...] ’tis aw my ain acqueeseetion—I can make ducks and drakes of it.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Ducks & Drakes. To make Ducks and Drakes of one’s Money; to throw it idly away. It is as little benefit as if skim’d upon the Surface of the Water [etc.].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn).
[UK]‘Peter Pindar’ ‘Liberty’s Last Squeak’ Works (1801) V 84: And when his money from the purse departs, / Not play at ducks and drakes on waves of whim!
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Thackeray Pendennis II 194: We’ve tied up the property, so that he can’t make ducks and drakes with it.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. (2nd edn) 134: ‘To make ducks and drakes of one’s money,’ to throw it away childishly.
[UK]Besant & Rice Son of a Vulcan III 29: Poor Johnny Armstrong hadn’t much left of the property that he and his father, and his grand-father too, had all been making ducks and drakes of.
[US]Bossier Banner (Bellevue, LA) 8 June 2/4: The United States is rich, but its servants should not play ducks and drakes with its money.
McCook Trib. (ME) 10 July 6/1: No bank president would ever be permitted [...] to play ducks and drakes with their money.
[US]N.Y. Tribune 11 May 14/2: ‘Well now, my dear fellow [...] neither you nor I are quite in position to play ducks and drakes with sovereigns’.
Dly Mirror (London) 1 Aug. 10/3: One of these days it will be impossible for a swindler to play ducks and drakes with any woman’s money.
Hartlepool Northern Dly Mail 28 May 4/6: For two hears they will be able to play ducks and drakes with what remains [...] upon the direct taxpaper.
[UK]Western Dly Press 19 Jan. 12/7: It is said that we shall play ducks and drakes with the finances of this country.
[UK]Essex Newsman 5 Nov. 1/5: Insurance cards were only chekcd every six months; it was possible for ‘an unscrupulous lad to play ducks and drakes’ for that time.

2. to act carelessly, to take chances.

[UK]Dundee Courier 9 Feb. 1/7: If many of our elderly admirals went to sea, they would play ducks and drakes not with the enemies’ ships, but [...] with our own.
Warwick & Warwicks. Advertiser 29 July 3/6: Sweet Nelly [...] declares [...] he would play ‘ducks and drakes’ with our diplomacy.
[UK]Shields Dly Gaz. 12 Jan. 3/1: Mr Law: [...] That shows what a cad you are. Don’t think you are going to play ducks and drakes with the Board. The Chairman: I’ll give you ducks and drakes, you thundering liar.
[UK]Lancs. Eve. Post 3 Nov. 5/5: The Liverpool team [...] week after week play ducks and drakes with the feelings of their supporters.
[UK]Portsmouth Eve. News 19 Feb. 5/3: An unqualified practitioner would not be allowed to practice, neither ought an unqualified woman be allowed to play ducks and drakes with the sick.
[UK]Yorks. Eve. Post 19 Dec. 15/2: When did we see spring cabbage at Christmas? [...] How we do play ducks and drakes with the calendar in these days.
[UK]Hull Dly Mail 18 Jan. 6/2: They had added to the dangers of the public in the black-out [...] He did not think they should let the Emergency Committee play ‘ducks and drakes’ with Hull’s highways.
Hartlepool Northern Dly Mail 21 Apr. 7/3: Bristol firemen object to acting as midives [...] ‘We cannot afford to play ducks and rakes with human lives’.
play hooky (v.)

see separate entry.

play it by ear (v.) (also play it by skyhook) [a musician who has no score as a guide/skyhook, an imaginary contrivance that keeps one ‘flying’]

to act in an ad hoc spontaneous manner.

[UK]L. Gribble Wantons Die Hard 161: ‘I’m playing this by ear,’ he grunted once when the American queried the devious route he was following [OED].
[US](con. 1940s) G. Mandel Wax Boom 198: We figure and figure, and then we play it by ear.
[US]K. Brasselle Cannibals 177: I have the big one at six-thirty, and I’m playing it by ear. [Ibid.] 335: Pick me up here at eight p.m. and we’ll play it by skyhook.
[UK]G.F. Newman Sir, You Bastard 73: Just play it by ear [...] you’ll be all right.
[UK]P. Theroux Family Arsenal 154: I’ll play it by ear.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘Christmas Crackers’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] Look, let’s just play it by ear, shall we.
[UK]Guardian G2 31 Jan. 22: ‘You must be wrong in the head’, claimed Yvonne, but agreed to ‘play it by ear’.
play it close to one’s chest (v.) (also play it close to one’s vest) [card-playing imagery: the player holds their cards close to their body in order to stop any opponent seeing them]

1. to conserve one’s funds.

[US]H. Blossom Checkers 153: I’ve got to play ’em close to my vest now. A dime’s bigger than a mountain when you have n’t [got one].

2. to act in a reserved, secretive manner.

[US]‘F. Bonnamy’ A Rope of Sand (1947) 107: I can play ’em as close to my vest as Mrs. Hjerleid.
[US]W. Brown Monkey On My Back (1954) 113: All right. Play it close to the chest.
[UK]I. Fleming Diamonds Are Forever (1958) 169: Playing it pretty close to the chest.
[US]R. Price Breaks 172: I still needed to play close to the vest with my emotions.
[US]L. Stringer Grand Central Winter (1999) 134: I wasn’t expecting any raves from her. She tended to play it close to the chest with me.
play it off (v.)

(US campus) to dismiss something, to not care.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Spring 6: play it off – take it easy, don’t be embarrassed.
play past (v.) (US black)

1. to circumvent obstacles, mental as well as physical.

[US]Milner & Milner Black Players 39: To play past something in The Game is to get beyond or around an obstacle. Thus, if someone attempts phony excuses one should ‘play past that shit’ and find out the real reasons behind their actions. If there is a serious psychological obstacle (guilt, recriminations), you can try to brush off the matter by claiming that ‘I can play past that bullshit because my thoughts are bigger than that.’.
[US]A.K. Shulman On the Stroll 125: Prince had been thinking [...] Long enough to play right past the warden and his jive.

2. to lose an opportunity.

[US]G. Smitherman Black Talk.
play scared pool (v.)

(US) to act over-cautiously.

[US]H. Selby Jr Requiem for a Dream (1987) 109: He drove cautiously but not overcautiously. He didn’t believe in playing scared pool.
play stickers (with) (v.)

(UK Und.) to steal money which one is supposedly passing on to a confederate.

[UK]V. Davis Gentlemen of the Broad Arrows 166: The thirty-five quid proved too big a temptation; he has played stickers with it.
play the iggie (v.) [abbr.]

(US) to ignore.

[US]C. Clausen I Love You Honey, But the Season’s Over 139: Dope! I was trying to tell you to play the iggie [...] To play the iggie means to play dumb – clam up.
[US]F. Powledge Mud Show 187: They play the iggie to you and get by [HDAS].
play the mouth organ (v.)

(drugs) to smoke heroin with a rolled-up matchbook cover substituted for the usual roll of tinfoil, which is used to suck up the heated, smoking heroin.

‘Sl. Names’ Drugs-info.co.uk [Internet] Play The Mouth Organ To use a matchbox cover to chase the dragon.
play up (v.)

see separate entry.