Green’s Dictionary of Slang

play n.

1. [early 16C+] sexual activity; flirtation.

2. [late 18C+] any form of action, plan or scheme.

3. [late 19C+] the situation, the state of affairs.

4. [late 19C+] (orig. US) a show of interest, patronage, publicity; a chance; thus give (it/one) a play v., to try out, to give a chance.

5. [20C+] (US Und.) the performance of a single confidence trick, esp. one which requires substantial preparation, props etc.

6. [1930s] (US) way of life, well-being.

7. [1970s] (US black) a form of greeting that involves the slapping of palms [note 9C–14C SE play, to clap the hands].

In phrases

back up (some)one’s play (v.) [gambling jargon]

[1930s+] (US) to support one’s own statement or action or those of another person in some way.

give someone a play (v.) [1930s+] (US black)

1. to express sexual interest in, to flirt with.

2. to give someone a chance; to make a deal with.

3. in fig. use, to frequent (and spend money).

give the man the play (v.) [man n. (4a)]

[1970s+] (US black) to inform.

make a play (v.) [20C+]

1. to act in a demonstrative, theatrical manner.

2. to pretend, esp. in an ‘obvious’ manner.

make a play for (v.) (also make a play at/with)

1. [late 19C+] to make sexual advances towards someone, to attempt seduction.

2. [1900s–20s] as sense 1, but in a non-sexual manner.

pull a play (v.)

[1950s] to perform an action, usu. constr. with descriptive adj.

In exclamations

that’s the play!

[1930s] (US) a general excl. of agreement or approval.