I wonder if 'play cute' or 'play adorable' is frequently used to stand for 'act cute/adorable' in spoken language. It seems easier to google out 'act cute/adorable' instead of 'play cute/adorable'.

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    I only know 50s movies where the cop says "Don't play cute with me!" to the uncooperative gangster being questioned. I can't believe anyone still says that (if indeed they ever did, outside of movie scripts). Presumably OP means something different, but I don't know what it is. We need more context, please. Oct 18, 2011 at 2:08
  • We're all human beings, so I expect similar situations happen to all of us. But please can you explain what these expressions mean to you? Oct 18, 2011 at 2:53
  • I am not sure if the following situation would happen in western cultures or not. But in the East, a girl would try or pretend to act cute or adorable when she is with someone on whom she Oct 18, 2011 at 3:04
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    Okay, well like I say, I don't think play cute has been much used for decades, and I doubt play/act adorable ever has or will be. Also I don't think there will necessarily be any standard expressions (slang or otherwise) that simultaneously cover both a girl acting coy to enhance her sexual attractiveness, and a kindergarten teacher using a childish voice (btw - toddlers in kindergarten aren't called students). Oct 18, 2011 at 3:27
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    I think @FumbleFingers is right, you're going to need two different words for those situations. The first is flirtatious, but if you described a kindergarten teacher as such, you'd raise some eyebrows. (Though I feel like this wasn't always the case - any thoughts? Was there a time when an adult could have been described as "flirting" with a baby, e.g.?)
    – user13141
    Oct 18, 2011 at 5:38

2 Answers 2


These have different shades of meaning. One who "plays cute" is intentionally giving that impression, while one who "acts cute" may be doing it intentionally but may not.

  • Does that mean these expressions are understandable by native English speakers if used by a non-native speakers, even though they may be old-fashioned or mean subtly differently? Oct 19, 2011 at 1:03
  • Yes. But on the other hand, it might not have quite the meaning you intend (depending on what, precisely, you intend).
    – Charles
    Oct 19, 2011 at 13:21
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    I think this distinction is spurious. Jun 11, 2012 at 2:05

I was always under the impression that "don't play cute" means "don't pretend to be innocent"/"I know you're being dishonest".

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    Actually, it could be related to one of the original meanings of cute which was “clever”, or, more appropriate, “shrewd”.
    – theUg
    Feb 11, 2013 at 8:49

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