Here is the context:

Some dogs were skilled at finding and snatching food and avoiding dogcatchers, unfriendly dogs, and people. Some were good at “playing” humans for food, whereas others weren’t.

Does that mean that when dogs want to get food, they try to imitate humans?


1 Answer 1


Your question title says playing human, but the quote says playing humans. These are two very different things, and this is the source of your confusion.

Play human would mean 'pretend to be human; imitate a human' as you've suggested above. But that isn't what this example says. You should be able to find this meaning in dictionaries readily.

Play humans, on the other hand, means 'manipulate humans to get what they want'. This meaning is a little tricky to find in dictionaries since it's a bit slangy, and that's probably why it was put in quotes, but it's related to the meaning play (someone) for a fool which you should be able to find:

play someone for Treat someone as being of (a specified type).
‘don't imagine you can play me for a fool’

(Source: The Oxford Dictionary of English)

The slang version of the word can be used without a for-phrase as a complement.

  • I am sorry I made a typo. I was exactly confused by "play humans". Apr 8, 2018 at 11:39
  • 4
    +1 but what you've written is a little misleading: "playing humans" could also mean imitating humans. The "manipulate" meaning just makes a lot more sense in this context. Apr 8, 2018 at 20:43
  • Yeah, that's a fair point. I should probably have drawn a three-way distinction in this answer.
    – user230
    Apr 8, 2018 at 21:43
  • 6
    The sense ‘manipulate’ may be related to the metaphor of a musical instrument: one occasionally hears “She played you like a violin.” Apr 9, 2018 at 1:12

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