You and your brother are playing basketball, and your mother notices that you two are fighting over it. She says: “Guys! Play nice!”
What does she mean? What does she mean – really?
Well, that depends on the definitions of “play” and “nice” that you are using.
If you use the word play as its generally used meaning, things seem fairly obvious.
The definition of play here is the standard definition:
a : to engage or take part in a game
b : to perform in a position in a specified manner
Then we add the word ‘nice” as an grammatically incorrect form of an adverb. Instead of saying “nicely”, the grammatically ignorant mother uses the word “nice”.
Her intent is therefore to say “Play nicely (together).”
It seems fairly obvious doesn’t it?
There is, however, a second definition of “play” which intrigues me. This definition is linked to the concept of “play” as a noun – related to a script which is acted out.
In this sense, “play” gains a slighty more sinister connotation.
e (1) : to behave or conduct oneself in a specified way play safe
(2) : to feign a specified state or quality play dead
(3) : to take part in or assent to some activity : cooperate play along with his scheme
(4) : to act so as to prove advantageous to another —usually used in the phrase play into the hands of
This changes things. In this sense, the mother is telling her children, “Pretend to be nice to each other.”
You might think this observation may be no big deal but it does make me wonder what people really mean in other more important arenas of life. When men and women tell each other to play nice, when corporations or politicans say they play nice, you wonder what is being implied. Is it one or the other or a combination of both?
Does the inner man matter? Does the heart of the person matter as long as they are going through the motions? Does the performance of actions or motions inherently create or imply a certain state of mind?
The next time someone tells you to play nice, what will you do?