play at

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play at

  1. To pretend to be a different person while playing a game.
    So we played at being pirates for a while.
  2. To do something in a manner that lacks seriousness, commitment, or professionalism.
    In my opinion, John only plays at being an author. He hasn't sold more than two magazine articles in as many months.
    • 2015, Andrew O'Hagan, The Illuminations, →ISBN, page 94:
      'You don't like him, Capatin, do you?' 'No, I don't. He plays at being loyal'

Usage notes[edit]

  • Also found in the rhetorical expression What are you / is he / are they playing at? and variations, which suggest that someone is doing something very wrong, or incorrectly, usually with the possibility of causing damage, or harm if they do not cease immediately.