play musical chairs, to

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play musical chairs

1. Literally, to play the children's game known as "musical chairs," in which participants walk around a circle of chairs until the music stops and each person tries to sit on a chair. There are always fewer chairs than players, and the person who remains standing is removed from the game after each round, until only one remains. Mommy, can we play musical chairs at my birthday party?
2. To move, shuffle, or rearrange people from one position to another, as in a group or organization. After the boss resigned, everyone started playing musical chairs in the company to figure out who would take over for whom. We've been playing musical chairs trying to create enough space in the living room for Alex's birthday party this weekend.
See also: chair, musical, play
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

play musical chairs, to

To swap jobs, prospects, or decisions in a rapid, confusing fashion. The term comes from a children’s game, also called “going to Jerusalem,” in which the players march to music around a row of chairs where every other chair faces in the opposite direction. When the music stops, the players must sit down, but, there being one fewer chair than the number of players, one player cannot and is eliminated (along with one more chair). The name of the game was transferred to job changes within a corporation or other organization in the early twentieth century. Britain’s former prime minister, Sir Harold Wilson, played on it in his book, The Governance of Britain (1976): “Hence the practised performances of latter-day politicians in the game of musical daggers: never be left holding the dagger when the music stops.”
See also: musical, play
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in periodicals archive ?
It is a strange proposal that reminds me of my childhood when we used to play musical chairs, normally at birthday parties.
e former farm hand was one of 15 children and often regails members of the club with tales of having to borrow seats from the neighbours if they wanted to play musical chairs.
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Always have, since I was a child and we had to play musical chairs (now mercifully banned by Elfin Safety) and spar with someone's faintly sinister uncle, who would desperately try to inveigle us into saying a forbidden word like "sausages".
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WHEN THE MUSIC STOPS: Owen Coyle is among the latest group of bosses to play musical chairs on the managerial front
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"I was forced to play Musical Chairs. Because my knuckles dragged along the ground, I couldn't reach a chair in time before the rest of the kids.
He snubbed Richard Gough because he refused to play musical chairs on a jet returning from Saudi Arabia.
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