There was the following sentence in Maureen Dowd’s article titled “Taxing Times for Obama” in the New York Times May 18 issue. - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/opinion/sunday/dowd-irs-investigation-means-more-taxing-times-for-obama.html?hp&_r=0

“Asked about that on Thursday, Obama might have tried a little J.F.K. wit to dismiss the ridiculous assertion. Instead, he played the pill, as he too often does, huffily telling reporters, “Well, I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons, and you can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions.”

What does “play the pill” mean? I was unable to find this expression as an idiom in any of Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam Webster Dictionary, nor the incidence in Google N Gram.

At the same time, what does ‘J.F.K. wit’ mean? What is it like for example?

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    Yoichi ... If you learn English only from Maureen Dowd columns, you will end up with quite an off-kilter dialect.
    – GEdgar
    May 19, 2013 at 3:01
  • @GEdger. If you track back 558 questions I’ve posted thus far in this site, you’ll find my questions originated from Maureen Dowd’s writings remains 5% or so at the most, though I can’t be bothered to count them out. It means I’m not learning English only from her columns. I’ve posted questions about English expressions in many articles in NYT other than Dowd’s. I’ve posted questions on writings in Washington Post, Time magazine, Financial Times, even in BBC and NPR, and some fictions. May 19, 2013 at 9:22
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    Cont.Only the reason for relative high inclusion of quotes from Dowd’s in my questions is that she supplies examples of “off-kilter dialect” as you rightly described, which are pretty difficult for a non-native English speaker to decode simply with the aid of English dictionaries and Wikipedia. I find neither room or special need for asking or repeating questions about the impeccable, well-received standard English statement that I learned in English language text books in college. May 19, 2013 at 9:27
  • I certainly would not accuse you of only reading her, but I was just thinking "Oh, Dowd again". Not complaining - although (as others have noted, I think), she has her own individual off-kilter-ness; that still makes it good advanced practice for you, but it is not a 'dialect' - you wouldn't hear this kind of stretched wordplay much 'on the street'. // Have you considered the New Yorker? I think you might like the tone and content, and it would be a good source of current, high-quality (but colloquial) English.
    – hunter2
    Aug 6, 2013 at 6:48

1 Answer 1


A pill is “a disagreeable or tiresome person,” often because he is a square (overly conventional) or a Debbie Downer (overly negative).

Playing the pill means that he chose the role of a pill, rather than somebody witty and charismatic – like former president John F. Kennedy. It's not idiomatic, but merely colorful language.

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