Playing guitar

(This is sick day 2 for me, and I’m barely functioning, but here’s proof that I’m Not Dead Yet.)

On Facebook today, Probal Dasgupta, provoked by this Rich Tennant cartoon, asks about the various argument structure grids for play, with example sentences that mention guitars:

(#1) Transitive play ‘compete against’ (the highly context-bound sense illustrated in the cartoon) vs. ‘perform on (a musical instrument)’ (a very frequent, everyday sense)

Transitive uses of play are summarized in my 10/10/17 posting “Performance ambiguity”, about a One Big Happy cartoon that plays on play:

(#2) 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.

#2 has 4 ‘perform (a piece of music)’ — the sense in Ruthie’s grandmother’s question — vs. 4 ‘perform on (a musical instrument)’ — the sense in Ruthie’s answer.

And then #1 has 2 ‘compete against’ vs. 4 ‘perform on (a musical instrument)’.

Rich Tennant has appeared on this blog in my 2/7/18 posting “X matter”, about the artist and his cartoon The 5th Wave.

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