After playing around with some ideas, Tim Bowen has provided us with some brilliant descriptions of the phrasal verbs associated with this word.
Governments often try and play down the problems in their country (try to make a difficult situation seem less important than it is). However, as the problem develops, no-one is completely sure how the situation will play out (develop or end in a particular way). Critics often accuse the government of playing on people’s fears (using the situation and emotions such as fear or worry to get what they want). Others accuse certain politicians of simply playing at politics (doing something without being particularly serious about it).
The authorities should be careful though; people might start playing up (behaving badly). Perhaps the best solution would be simply for people to play along with them (pretending to agree with them in order to get what they want or avoid an argument). The problem is that those in power often play people off against each other (try to cause an argument between them in order to gain more power or control in a particular situation). No doubt they will play around with a number of different ideas (consider the different possibilities before making a decision). Cynics would of course argue that all politicians ever do is play to the gallery (say what they think people want to hear in order to gain popularity).
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