play at (doing something)

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play at (doing something)

1. To do or partake in something with halfhearted or minimal effort. Quit playing at cleaning the car and just do it! Each day I dutifully sit down at my desk, coffee in hand, but I only play at writing—I haven't been able to write anything substantive in months.
2. To pretend that one is or is doing something. Ever since he was able to talk, John has been playing at being a firefighter—I guess we know what his career will be! With the deregulation of the industry, you ended up with hundreds of glorified accountants playing at being Wall Street hotshots.
See also: play

play at something

to pretend to be doing something. You are not fixing the car, you are just playing at repair work! Stop playing at doing the dishes and get the job done.
See also: play

play at

Do or take part in half-heartedly, as in She was just playing at keeping house, letting the others do all the work. [Mid-1800s]
See also: play

play at

v.
1. To pretend to be or to do something for amusement or out of curiosity: He was just playing at being a cowboy.
2. To do or take part in something halfheartedly: You're playing at your work and not taking it seriously enough.
See also: play
References in classic literature ?
Everybody wants to bat first, and as soon as he is out he bowls unless you are the better wrestler, and while you are wrestling with him the fielders have scattered to play at something else.
Mrs Clarke said: "On the first day we had the velcro ball target there was a huge queue of children wanting to use it and we had to tell some of them to play at something else for a while.