When I started writing this article, I had listed some three different expressions that we could discuss. However, one of the expressions—the first one in my list—has so many different meanings that there is a good chance we’ll be able to discuss only two expressions. Or perhaps just one. Let’s just get started, and see how it plays out.
This is actually a very simple expression: easy to remember, and easy to use. So you can start using it right away, but you will have to decide in what sense you want to use the expression each time, and that might need some thinking, because this expression has a number of different meanings.
1. Use up, finish: When you use something up to a level that it is finished completely, you can say that it has played out. Let’s consider a few examples that will help clarify the meaning.
A. In a marathon, you should always learn to pace yourself, otherwise your energy will be played out much too early, and you won’ t be able to finish the race.
B. I’m tired of this new trend of wearing all black and only coloring one’s hair. I hope it plays out in a few months like all fashion trends.
C. They won’t get people to vote for those played-out old policies.
2. Outdated, boring: This meaning might actually considered an extension of the ‘finish’ meaning above. However, in this case, the implication is that something has lost its novelty or run its course, therefore it is ‘played out.’ When you are sick of seeing or hearing about something, or if something trendy has lost is popularity, you can say it is ‘played out.’
A. Who reads those cheap romance books any more? They are so played out!
B. Dude, stop doing that funny voice please. I know it was fun last week, but it’s so played out now.
3. To perform to the end: When you continue some activity—such as a performance or a game—till a certain deadline, or till the end of a particular period, that can be described as ‘playing out.’
A. We all knew by lunch time that the test match would be a draw, but we still had another fifty overs to play out.
B. I know those guys are cheating shamelessly, but let’s just play this game out, then we’ll report the problem to the panel of referees.
C. By the fourth round, she knew she was going to lose and the other boxer was winning. But she was determined to play out the match, even though she could barely see out of her right eye.
4. Unreel, unfold: When you play out a rope, string, or a chain, you uncoil, release, or slacken and extend the line, usually in order to let something out that is tied to the other end.
A. Don’t pull it so tight! If you want the kite to fly high up in the sky, you should let the line play out nicely.
B. Would you mind playing the twine out so I can slide down the cliff and pick up the camera I dropped from the ledge there?
5. To become spent or exhausted: If you say you are played out, you are saying that you are too tired to continue. This can be used in the immediate sense as well as in the long term.
A. After playing music for six hours straight, the DJ was all played out. He just shut the system down and walked off.
B. It’s been a long career, hundreds of matches, a number of trophies, every award I could have possible wanted—but now I’m all played out. It’s time I retired.
6. Develop, unfold, or to develop or end in a particular way: When you want to see how something plays out, you are saying you want to watch and observe future developments to see how it all turns out. Once again, let’s just use some examples for clarity.
A. With the two senior managers at loggerheads, and the company in serious financial trouble at the same time, no one could tell how the situation would play out.
B. His career as a musician played out against the backdrop of a terrible war.
C. It’s a close contest, hard to tell who will win the election. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.
7. Pretend that something is really happening: When you ‘play out ‘ a certain scene, you are acting it out, pretending that it is real. For instance, you and a friend could play out a fake fight.
A. Children often play out strange or violent scenes. Where do they get these ideas from?