"While playing off the hype of the TV show reboot "The X-files," the CIA broke down the cases into two categories, whether you side with Agent Mulder or Agent Scully."

I'm studying English and I can't get the meaning of "play off" here. Please enlighten me. Thank you.

  • 1
    I'm not sure whether the idiom "play off" comes from sports or theater. Basically, it means operating in response to, as when reacting to, eg, a tennis opponent's shot, or when reacting to the emoting of another actor on stage.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 2, 2016 at 2:27

1 Answer 1


I think in your example to "play off" is to act in response to or benefit from, like using the popularity of the X-Files to promote one's own show or opinion. See also piggyback as in "Piggybacking on the popularity of the X-Files, the CIA..."

In another context it might mean to discount, or distract from, like when someone is accused of something and though they may be guilty they "play it off" as a dumb question. See also downplay

Your example starts with "While..." which doesn't read quite right so it's unclear which context is intended but I'd go with the first one.

Hope this helps, Starrover!

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