Middle English pleie, from Old English plega (West Saxon), plæga (Anglian) "quick motion; recreation, exercise, any brisk activity" (the latter sense preserved in swordplay -- Old English sweordplegan -- etc.), from or related to Old English plegan (see play (v.)).
By early Middle English it could mean variously, "a game, a martial sport, activity of children, joke or jesting, revelry, sexual indulgence." Of physical things, "rapid, brisk, or light movement," by 1620s.
Meaning "dramatic performance" is attested by early 14c., perhaps late Old English. Meaning "free or unimpeded movement, liberty and room for action," of mechanisms, etc., is from 1650s. The meaning "activity, operation" (1590s) is behind expressions such as in full play, come into play. The sporting sense of "the playing of a game" is attested from mid-15c.; that of "specific maneuver or attempt" is from 1868.
The U.S. slang meaning "attention, publicity" is by 1929. To be in play (of a hit ball, etc.) is from 1788. Play-by-play in reference to running commentary on a game is attested from 1927. Play on words "pun" is from 1798. Play-money is attested from 1705 as "money won in gambling," by 1920 as "pretend money."
Middle English pleien, from Old English plegan, plegian "move lightly and quickly, occupy or busy oneself, amuse oneself; engage in active exercise; frolic; engage in children's play; make sport of, mock; perform music," from Proto-West Germanic *plegōjanan "occupy oneself about" (source also of Old Saxon plegan "vouch for, take charge of," Old Frisian plega "tend to," Middle Dutch pleyen "to rejoice, be glad," German pflegen "take care of, cultivate"), which is apparently connected to the root of plight (v.), but the ultimate etymology is uncertain and the phonetic development is difficult to explain.
Meaning "to take part in" a martial or athletic game is from c. 1200. It has been opposed to work (v.) since late 14c. Meaning "perform or act on the stage" (transitive) is by late 14c., as are the senses of "take the role of" and "make a pretense of, make believe" and "act thoughtlessly or wantonly." Sense of "put forward, move, throw, lay on the table, etc." in the course of a game or contest is by 1560s of chess pieces, 1670s of playing cards. Sense of "operate or cause to operate with continuous or repeated action" is from 1590s. Meaning "to cause (a recording) to reproduce what is on it" is by 1903, probably from the "make music" sense. Related: Played; playing.
Many expressions are from the stage, sports and games, or music, and it is not always easy to say which is from which. To play up "emphasize" is from 1909 (perhaps originally "play music more vigorously"); to play down "minimize" is from 1930; to play along "pretend to agree or cooperate" is from 1929. To play fair "be nice" is from mid-15c. To play house as a children's activity is from 1958.
To play for keeps is from 1861, originally of marbles or other children's games with tokens. To play (something) safe is from 1911; to play favorites is attested from 1902. To play second fiddle in the figurative sense is from 1809 ("Gil Blas"). To play into the hands (of someone) "act in such a way as to give the advantage to one's opponent or a third party" is from 1705. For play the _______ card see card (n.1). For play the field see field (n.). To play with oneself "masturbate" is from 1896 (to play with "have sexual intercourse with" is from mid-13c.). Playing-card "one of a pack of cards used for playing games" is from 1540s.
c. 1300 as an adverbial phrase, "completely, thoroughly, to the utmost degree," from out (adv.). Adjective usage is attested by 1813.
in Old English a common prefix with nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, "out, outward, outer; forth, away," from out (adv.). The use was even more common in Middle English, and also with the senses "outer, outside, on the outside, from without, external, externally; apart; greatly, extremely; completely, thoroughly, to completion." Other senses of out that extended into the use as a prefix include "beyond the surface or limits; to the utmost degree; to an explicit resolution."
In composition out has either its ordinary adverbial sense, as in outcast, outcome, outlook, etc., or a prepositional force, as in outdoors, or forms transitive verbs denoting a going beyond or surpassing of the object of the verb, in doing the act expressed by the word to which it is prefixed, as in outrun, outshine, outvenom, etc. In the last use especially out may be used with almost any noun or verb. [Century Dictionary]
Old English utian "expel, put out," from the source of out (adv.). It has been used in many specific senses over the years; the meaning "disclose to public view, reveal, make known" is by mid-14c.
Eufrosyne preyde Þat god schulde not outen hire to nowiht. ["Legendary of St. Euphrosyne," c. 1350]
Meaning "to expose as a closet homosexual" is first by 1990 (as an adjective meaning "openly avowing one's homosexuality" it dates from 1970s; see closet). To come out "declare oneself publicly as homosexual" is from 1968 and probably short for come out of the closet. Related: Outed; outing. Compare outen.
late Old English, "outer," from out (adv.). From mid-13c. as "that is or lies on the outside, exterior." Of a light or candle, "extinguished, no longer burning," c. 1300. Sense of "no longer secret" is by 1713. Sense in baseball (1860) was earlier in cricket (1746). Meaning "unconscious" is attested from 1898, originally in boxing from the notion of "defeated ('out') by failing to rise within a 10-count." To be out on one's feet is from 1952. From 1966 as "unfashionable, not stylish, popular, or modern."
expressing motion or direction from within or from a central point, also removal from proper place or position, Old English ut "out, without, outside," from Proto-Germanic *ūt- (Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Gothic ut, Middle Dutch uut, Dutch uit, Old High German uz, German aus), from PIE root *uidh- "up, out, up away, on high" (source also of Sanskrit ut "up, out," uttarah "higher, upper, later, northern;" Avestan uz- "up, out," Old Irish ud- "out," Latin usque "all the way to, continuously, without interruption," Greek hysteros "the latter," Russian vy- "out").
Sense of "to a full end, completely, to a conclusion or finish" is from c. 1300. Meaning "so as to be no longer burning or alight; into darkness" is from c. 1400. Of position or situation, "beyond the bounds of, not within," early 15c. Meaning "into public notice" is from 1540s; that of "away from one's place of residence," c. 1600. The political sense of "not in office, removed or ejected from a position" is from c. 1600. Meaning "come into sight, become visible" (of stars, etc.) is by 1610s. In radio communication, a word indicating that the speaker has finished speaking, by 1950.
As a preposition, "out of; from, away from; outside of, beyond; except; without, lacking;" mid-13c., from the adverb.
Meaning "from harmonious relations, into quarreling" (as in to fall out) is from 1520s. Meaning "from one's normal state of mind" (as in put out) is from 1580s; out to lunch "insane" is student slang from 1955. Adjectival phrase out-of-the-way "remote, secluded" is attested from late 15c. Out-of-towner "one not from a certain place" is from 1911. Out of this world "excellent" is from 1938; out of sight "excellent, superior" is from 1891. To (verb) it out "bring to a finish" is from 1580s. Expression from here on out "henceforward" is by 1942. Out upon, expressing abhorrence or reproach, is from early 15c.