Performance ambiguity

A recent One Big Happy plays on play:

Play the Moonlight Sonata. Play the piano. Play the Moonlight Sonata on the piano.

A few of the transitive senses of the verb play, from NOAD2:

1 [with object] engage in (a game or activity) for enjoyment: I want to play Monopoly; amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretense: the boys were playing cops and robbers.

2 [with object] take part in (a sport): I play softball and tennis; participate in (an athletic match or contest): the Red Sox will play two games on Wednesday; compete against (another player or team) in an athletic match or contest: the team will play France on Wednesday.

3 [with object] represent (a character) in a theatrical performance or on film: she played Ophelia.

4 [with object] perform on (a musical instrument): we heard someone playing a harmonica; possess the skill of performing upon (a musical instrument): he taught himself to play the violin; perform (a piece of music): they played a violin sonata.

It’s all in the performance (in the sense collection 4 above).

One Response to “Performance ambiguity”

  1. stavinchain Says:

    I once held up a wallet-sized calendar to an Australian friend and asked, “Can you use one of these?” After pausing for thought, she replied, “You just look at it, don’t you?”

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