Time magazine picked up the topic, “Chick-fil-A meets a first amendment buzzsaw” in its 10 most popular stories of this week, which was followed by the following lead copy:
“The issues at play are the personal view of the owner of the restaurant chain and the philanthropic efforts of the private company.”
I understand “the issues at play” here means something like “hot issues” or “issues in motion, or in the process,” but I don’t find the pertinent definitions of “something at play” in dictionaries at hand.
Oxford Online Dictionary defines ‘play’ as a mass noun meaning (1) activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children by showing the example of usage: A child at play may use a stick as an aeroplane. (2) behaviour or speech that is not intended seriously: I flinched, but only in play.
None of Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and OALD carries “at play” as an idiom.
Ngrams for at play,in play shows high usage of both since before 1840, with the latter significantly surpassing the currency of the former since 1910 until recently.
I assume “at play” is definitely a generic reference not limited to children as Oxford Dictionary defines.
Do you know why this apparently well-used phrase is not included in popular dictionaries other than Oxford Online Dictionary, which shows limited usage?