Green’s Dictionary of Slang

play n.

1. sexual activity; flirtation.

[UK]The Boke of Mayd Emlyn line 188: And the best sporte That sholde me comforte, Whiche is a swete playe, I can it not haue.
[UK]T. Chaloner ‘Wanton Bird’ in May & Bryson Verse Libel 73: A wanton burde the which in Cage I silde [i.e. sealed] / More for her nyce playe than to here her syng.
[UK]Massinger Bondman II ii: Fie on these warres, I am staru’d for want of action, not a gamester left To keepe a woman play.
[UK]Parliament of Ladies 13: Sir John Suckling was dead, but truly shee lik’d his play well.
[UK] ‘Song’ Covent Garden Drollery 39: Agreed we lay’d down and tumbled Till both were weary of play, Though I spent a full share, Yet by Cupid I swear, I came off with a ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
[UK]T. Duffet Empress of Morocco Prologue: Then hungry jilt that rails at Play, ’Cause Cully will not bite to day, And’s eager grown for want of prey.
[UK] ‘The Toothless Bride’ in Ebsworth Bagford Ballads (1878) I 26: I know your young men can’t forbare, / But soon must be at the Play.
[UK]W. King York Spy 67: She takes delight to Laugh, Play, Dance, or Sing, Will Kiss, Hug, Promise, nay, Do any Thing. [...] But Laugh and Lye down is her common Play.
[UK]Laugh and Be Fat 127: But laugh and lye down are her common play; / At Draughts or Tables she’ll engage with any, / Only she’s apt to bear a Man too many.
[Scot]W. Tennant Anster Fair V xlviii 121: Lay Tommy Puck [...] And Mrs Puck his gentle lady dear, / Basking and lolling in the lunar ray / And tumbling up and down in brisk fantastic play.
[UK] ‘The Gown Of Green’ Gentleman’s Spicey Songster 22: The jade she was devilish fond of the play, / Dragging, shagging, whisky, frisky.
[Aus]B. Espinasse ‘Dunno‘ in Bulletin Reciter n.p.: So seein’s how Jim made no play / ‘D’yer love me?’ she asks him one day.
[US]R.E. Sherwood Idiot’s Delight 145: You know that Wop that was giving me a play last night?
[US] in G. Legman Limerick (1953) 277: While I’ll own that stinkfinger’s amusing, / Still, this constant delay / Tends to hold up the play, / And this goom on the deck’s most confusing.
[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 214: Broadway likes him and thinks he might be able to get a play out of him now and then.
[US]E. Bunker Animal Factory 131: You hear what I said in there ? . . . I wanna play from you.
[US]Afrika Bambaataa ‘Zulu Nation Throwndown’ 🎵 Why don’t you chill out, just give me a play.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Nov. 6: play – attention. ‘What happened to the girl he was trying to talk to?’ ‘Man, she wouldn’t give him no play.’.
[US](con. 1970s) G. Pelecanos King Suckerman (1998) 50: Man gets all that play, you think he’d smile.
[US]J. Ridley Conversation with the Mann 83: The wolves were constantly circling, eager to get a little play.
[US]G. Hayward Corruption Officer [ebk] cap. 2: The fine chicks [...] would not give a young brother, like myself, any play.

2. any form of action, plan or scheme.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 107: He had put a whole bottle of rum into the tea-kettle; from which she poured out a quantity [...] and continued pouring and tasting alternately, until she had completely napt the suck, and then the play began.
[UK]Dickens Oliver Twist (1966) 239: If there is any deep play here, I shall have it out of you, my girl, cunning as you are.
[US]Lantern (N.O.) 19 Mar. 2: I’m scared to say whether john Fitzpatrick is in on the play or not.
[US]A.H. Lewis Wolfville 126: After hangin’ up this bluff the Dallas sharp [...] leaves us to size up the play at out leesure.
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 52: Next I see him make the only fool play but one that I ever knew the Boss to make.
[US]W.M. Raine Brand Blotters (1912) 36: I see. I’m a waddy and a thief, but you’re going to protect me for old time’s sake. That’s the play, is it?
[US]D. Hammett ‘The Tenth Clew’ in Continental Op (1975) 21: The list was faked up, put in the wallet with the clippings and twenty dollars — to make the play stronger.
[US]C.B. Yorke ‘Snowbound’ in Gangster Stories Oct. n.p.: ‘Want me to — tip your play to the cops?’.
[US]‘Paul Cain’ ‘One, Two, Three’ in Penzler Pulp Fiction (2006) 15: His best play was to take the air.
[US]O. Strange Sudden Takes the Trail 103: I’m with you all the way, but it seemed an easy play.
[US]C. Himes Crazy Kill 134: There was some stud leaning out of Big Joe’s bedroom window watching the play.
[US]B. Jackson Thief’s Primer 90: In Texas [...] they don’t try to hedge their bet. Whenever there’s a play come up, they just go ahead and take their play right then.
[US]D. Goines Dopefiend (1991) 80: It’s your play, honey.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 89: The play [...] means both the interaction between male and female prior to sex — or whatever is then occurring — the action of the moment.
[UK]V. Headley Yardie 32: This was the first play and he had to be sharp.
[US]G. Pelecanos Right As Rain 321: For obvious reasons, they don’t want too much play on this bad-cop thing.
[US]D. Winslow ‘Broken’ in Broken 4: Passed up the small shit, waited for Oscar to make his big play.

3. the situation, the state of affairs.

[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 109: Make tracks for the Hollow afore daylight and keep dark till we know how the play goes.
[US]Ade Fables in Sl. (1902) 52: Moral: If it is your Play to be a Hero, don’t Renig.
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 78: Everybody who ought to investigate it was in on the play.
[US]D. Lowrie My Life in Prison 124: Her mother got on t’ th’ play an’ it seemed t’ please her.
[US]R. Chandler ‘Goldfish’ in Red Wind (1946) 173: That’s why we’re going to talk it over. It’s not a shooting play.
[US]C. Himes If He Hollers 93: She’d known where she was going, had known what the play was from the first.
[US]R. Prather Scrambled Yeggs 5: After a bright play like this I knew it couldn’t be brains; it was either blood or sawdust.
[US]W. Brown Girls on the Rampage 35: This old buzzard’s a real weirdie. He don’t get the play at all.
[US]D. Pendleton Executioner (1973) 86: Well, Chuck, it looks like you’ve called the play on this thing.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 39: The roof picket had spotted the whole play.
[UK]J. Cameron Vinnie Got Blown Away 59: So what was the play? Vinnie got blown away. He got on someone’s stash, tried a sideline. It was theirs, Vinnie wanted a little.

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

[US]Ade Artie (1963) 16: I’ve made the play at the old folks, on the square.
[US]J. Lait ‘Canada Kid’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 160: The help-yourself room must ‘a’ been gettin’ a great play.
[US]D. Hammett ‘The Scorched Face’ Story Omnibus (1966) 77: I gave that section of the hill a good strong play.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Romance in the Roaring Forties’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 33: Everybody goes to the Chicken Club now and then to give Tony Bertazzola, the owner, a friendly play.
[UK]K. Fearing Big Clock (2002) 103: If we wanted to break it, we’d give it a big play.
[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 49: Most of the places were just starting to get a play and before the hour was out they’d be packed.
[US]Sepe & Telano Cop Team 141: I was really trying to help you guys [...] Isn’t that worth a play?
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 140: I was getting a bad play from the manager.
[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 22: Play is used when someone is requesting leniency in court or in prison for a violation of prison rules — as in: ‘I hope I get some play tomorrow in court.’.
[US]W.D. Myers ‘Kitty and Mack: A Love Story’ in 145th Street 88: Some of the kids thought that Dottie was sweating Mack and was just mad because he didn’t give her a play.
[US]W.D. Myers Game 192: But so many of the brothers on the corner didn’t have a play [...] Even when they angled into their best gangster lean, it was just a pose.
[US]T. Swerdlow Straight Dope [ebook] It was a sharp play. If you want some old banger to give you a minute, tell him you’re talking to your mom.

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

[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 300: That check-cashing racket was a case of flam; there was a hold-out that went with that play.
[US]H. Green Mr. Jackson 44: I don’t know how you got wise to our play, but I s’pose somebody squealed.
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 16: It could not be knocked down and concealed between plays.
[US]R.S. Prather ‘Double Take’ in Best of Manhunt (2019) [ebook] The old con play; give the mark a glimpse of something he wants bad, then make him think he can have it for little or nothing, tighten the screws. A good con-man can tie up a mark so tight that normal reasoning powers go out the window.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 85: An old squarejohn seen the play come off and he run and told the men.

6. (US) way of life, well-being.

[US]D. Runyon ‘Little Miss Marker’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 300: It is up to him to handle all her play.

7. (US gambling) of a bookmaker, the amount of money handled.

L. Schecter Jocks 249: Cohen [...] had been used, Cahn says, to lay money around New York for a New Orleans bookmaker with a big play.

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

[US]D. Claerbaut Black Jargon in White America 75: play n. 1. a greeting in which a person slaps another’s palms.

9. (US police/und.) a single bet in numbers gambling.

[US]C. Himes ‘Her Whole Existence’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 100: ‘The police made a raid on my policy drawing [...] I only had one list of the ‘plays,’ and the police confiscated that’.
[US]P. Maas Serpico 114: Serpico would see a plainclothesman count the plays carried by someone he had searched, and when the number fell short of the required hundred [to rate as a felony] , ‘flake’ his prisoner—add additional plays to make up the difference.

In phrases

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

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

B. Karpman Case studies in the Psychopathology of Crime 126: If this man can take four hundred dollars in one day from punch boards, he will have plenty of money to back up his play in cour.
D.C. Fisher Bent Twig 23: He told her he was in a jam and asked her to back up his play and say that she’d been in the car with him.
C.T. Young Blaine’s Law 85: It was a long shot, but he figured he could back up his play.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 63: I wanted a guide and a friend who would back up my play.
J. Dailey Calder Sky 469: Nate was offended that Chase would suggest he wasn’t going to back up his play.
J. Ballas Hard Land 71: Tetlow didn’t own his land [...] but seemed to figure to squat and back up his play with guns.
J. Hendryx Texan 128: Deemin’, rightly, that it wasn’t a shootin’ matter, he ondertook to back up his play with his fists, and he hauled off an’ smote me between the eyes.
give someone a play (v.) (US black)

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

[US]V.F. Nelson Prison Days and Nights 205: She’s about the hottest thing they ever saw round here. Believe me, there were plenty of guys giving Estelle a play.
[US]D. Dodge Bullets For The Bridegroom (1953) 27: One of them was run by a henna-haired female with a hard face who was getting a play from three or four night-owls when Whit arrived.
[US]W. Hopson ‘The Ice Man Came’ in Thrilling Detective Winter 🌐 I don’t like this dame who wouldn’t give me a play.
[US]C. Himes Imabelle 111: He just wanted to give the girl a play.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 113: [as 1957].
[US]G. Scott-Heron Vulture (1996) 24: John had been after Deb for almost a year, but she would never give him a play.
[US]UGK ‘Use Me Up’ 🎵 All the girls wanna know why I won’t give ’em the play.
[US]Snoop Doggy Dogg ‘Lodi Dodi’ 🎵 Why don’t you give me a play / So we can break it down the Long Beach way.
[US]G. Pelecanos Right As Rain 178: And to make things worse, the woman he was with, she hadn’t even given him any play.

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

[US]J.L. Kuethe ‘Prison Parlance’ in AS IX:1 26: give someone a play. To try to gain someone’s confidence.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 81/2: Give a play. [...] 3. To try to gain the confidence of an intended victim.
[US]P. Crump Burn, Killer, Burn! 130: I was just tryin’ to make a little bread [...] so give me a play, huh?
[US]D. Goines Street Players 149 Whatever happens, I’m going to give you a play.

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

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 81/2: Give a play. 2. To patronize. ‘I hear there’s a lot of new hustlers (prostitutes) in that nautch-joint (brothel) around the corner. Let’s give it a play.’.
[US] ‘Bill and Lil’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 121: Girl, you swore you’d write me each day / And fix it so I’d give the commissary a steady play.
make a play (v.)

1. to act in a demonstrative, theatrical manner.

[US]O. Wister Virginian 188: Trampas made an awful bad play then.
[US]R. Chandler Long Good-Bye 217: Did you hide the gun I told you about? You know, the morning after he made that play upstairs.
[US]G.P. Pelecanos Firing Offense 202: ‘Of course, no one had to die. They should have let you take it. We would have settled it later. But they had to make a play’.
[US]G. Pelecanos Shame the Devil 133: He made a play on the shooters, and they got the draw on him first.

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

[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ John Henry 15: I don’t know enough about French to find Paris on the map [...] But I’m thinking of my dear departed ten, so I makes the play!
[UK]P. Cheyney Dames Don’t Care (1960) 14: Make a big play that you are goin’ to Mexico.
make a play for (v.) (also make a play at/with)

1. to make sexual advances towards someone, to attempt seduction.

[US]W. Norr Stories of Chinatown 52: The boys were constantly making play for her.
[US]H. Blossom Checkers 117: Before long she’ll make a play at you – give her the frozen face.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 87: She had once made a play for the Swede.
[US]J. Lait ‘If a Party Meet a Party’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 97: This goof made a play for me in the rest’rant. I never gave him a tumble.
[US]M. West Pleasure Man (1997) II i: If you weren’t so dumb you’d see that Terrill’s making a play for Dolores.
[US]W.R. Burnett Dark Hazard (1934) 108: Eddie had made a strong play for Valery and had merely been laughed at.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 239: I, poor lonely man, mek leetla play with half-breed maid.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 173: ‘So,’ he says, ‘you are making a play for my wife, are you, scoundrel?’.
[US]J. Jones From Here to Eternity (1998) 828: You’ve done nothing for the past three weeks but [...] make a big play for Georgette.
[US] ‘The Fall’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 80: I curse the day I made my play / For that sidewalk Jezebel.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Start in Life (1979) 36: We made a play for each other even while still in the kitchen.
[US]R. Daley To Kill a Cop 276: There was sexual excitement between them already, and perhaps he should make his play now rather than waiting till after dinner.
[Aus]D. Ireland Glass Canoe (1982) 92: Making a play for the boss, but so far he hasn’t given her a tumble.
[US]N. Pileggi Wiseguy (2001) 93: She immediately began to make a play for the guy.
[US]T. Jones Pugilist at Rest 175: He made a play for her and brought her flowers every day.
[Ire]P. McCabe Emerald Germs of Ireland 343: Let’s have one of the chicks make a play for him and see what happens!

2. as sense 1, but in a non-sexual manner.

[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ I’m from Missouri 45: I began to notice that the Gray faction was making a big play for the women.
[US]J. O’Connor Broadway Racketeers 64: He must be a greaseball or he wouldn’t make his play for immigrants.
pull a play (v.)

to perform an action, usu. constr. with descriptive adj.

[US]W. Brown Teen-Age Mafia 69: Whitey was pulling screwball plays all over the lots.
swing a play (v.)

(US) to perform an action.

[US]D. Hammett Red Harvest (1965) 104: ‘I could have [...] showed him that I had them ruined. He’d have listened to reason. He’d have come over to my side, have given me the support I needed to swing the play legally’.

In exclamations

that’s the play!

(US) a general excl. of agreement or approval.

[US]O. Strange Law O’ The Lariat 168: A chorus of ‘Yo’re shoutin’ and ‘That’s the play,’ showed that this plan of action was fully in accord with the feelings of the men.