I want to fully comprehend the phrase "play someone for a fool" or the phrase "play him for a fool." I know there is deception involved in the action connected to this phrase. Though, I cannot factor in the fool part. I would appreciate it if someone could give me a concise thorough definition of the phrase. Note that I have checked the multiple online dictionaries without luck. They are a bit vague about the part I am referring to.

Thank you.

P.S. It would also be awesome if someone could point out the difference between "take someone for a fool" and "play someone for a fool" phrases.

  • 4
    You might like to see the entries in Farlex here and here. The difference could be that "playing" someone is taking advantage of their presumed stupidity. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 16:30
  • @WeatherVane Thank you. Though, like I said. I saw the definitions around. They are not concise.
    – Kacihoh
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 17:26
  • 1
    You didn't say you saw those definitions. Not stating your research is a reason for closure, as it wastes everyone's time. Exactly what is 'vague' about them? Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 17:36
  • @WeatherVane I actually said in my question that I checked the multiple online dictionaries.
    – Kacihoh
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 19:08
  • You have said that twice, but we still don't know why you think they are vague. If that's in the comments, please edit the question to explain your difficulty. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 22:41

1 Answer 1


Play in this sense means to manipulate for one's own ends. One can see it in a general sense in definition 20.b. of play, v. in the Oxford English Dictionary:

transitive. To use or treat (a person) as a plaything; to manage or use for one's own ends; to manipulate or exploit (a person). Also: to fool, swindle.

1901 J. Conrad & F. M. Hueffer Inheritors vi. 95 It seemed to me that she was playing me with all this nonsense—as if she..were fooling me to the top of her bent.

So playing can be a kind of manipulation. Also note the use of fooling me in the next bit. Being played and being fooled are close in meaning.

20.c is the specific phrasing you're talking about, adding for a [negative stereotype of person]:

c. transitive. Originally U.S. to play (a person) for a sucker (also fool, etc.): to deceive; to make a fool of; to con, cheat.

1869 ‘M. Twain’ Innocents Abroad xxvii. 294 Here, now, what do you mean by such conduct as this! Playing us for Chinamen because we are strangers and trying to learn!

1879 Fort Wayne (Indiana) Weekly Sentinel 23 July 5/2 He objects to being played for a sucker.

1892 R. Kipling Many Inventions (1893) 168 We've played 'em for suckers so often that when it comes to the golden truth—I'd like to try this on a London paper.

1898 Sandusky (Ohio) Star 8 Oct. I'm grinnin' at the handsome captain that got played for a fool by his wife.

So play preserves that sense of manipulation, and the following phrase for a fool is what you are made into by the manipulation. You fell for it; you're a fool, a sucker, a dupe.

  • Thanks you for the detailed answer. What I am trying to gain deep understanding of is the "for fool" part. I understand it's related to deception. So, I can say he deceived, manipulated, fooled, or played him. The second part is what I cannot fully comprehend. What is the actual difference between saying "played him for a fool" and "played him?" You said "made into by the manipulation" So, I guess what you are saying is that outcome/result of the manipulation is the victim becoming a fool. Makes sense. Though, I feel the definition is missing something. I feel like the player did that ...
    – Kacihoh
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 19:53
  • ... out of ridicule for the victim or the victim's mentality. The reason I am asking this question is that I am trying to understand a phrase I read regarding a dictator leader and his subjects. "He played them for fools and they followed him." That is the phrase I want to fully comprehend. Thanks again for the help.
    – Kacihoh
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 20:05
  • @Kacihoh I think this is just an ideosyncratic set phrase, there isn't really much logic to the use of "for" as the preposition. To me it would make more sense if it were "as a fool".
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 21:03
  • @Kacihoh it isn't the outcome that makes the victim a fool. The play is made because they are perceived to be a fool, or not clever enough to see what is happening to them. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 22:44
  • @WeatherVane Thanks for the reply. Are you saying that the player who played the victim saw him or thought of him as a fool and that is what he performed the act (of playing him) in hopes of fooling him?
    – Kacihoh
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 23:10

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