I have been writing quite a bit about play lately, and it occurred to me that I needed some synonyms for that word. The use of the same word over and over in an article can get monotonous and even irritating. So, I decided to find a suitable synonym for the verb form of play.
Guess what; there isn’t one. At least there is not one in the sense that we use it today. Here are some of the closest words I could find for the verb play in the sense of having fun: Caper, carouse, cavort, dally, frolic, revel, romp, carry on, fool around, horse around and make merry.
All of these have an archaic and even anarchic quality to them. Try using some of these words to describe our business:
Horse around industry
Cavorting, carousing, and horsing around seem a bit violent and out of control. A drunk carouses (I certainly did some cavorting in college), but depending upon one’s viewpoint, carousing can seem anywhere from obnoxious to dangerous. There are no rules for cavorting.
None of them do the job, but why not? After all, there are many synonyms for work: Labor, produce, slog, perform muscle, toil, plug away and earn a living to name just a few.
It is not as if the use of the word “play” in the sense we use it is new. Thesaurus.com dates “play” back to the 14th century, when it was first used as an alternative to the verb work.
My guess is that no one has taken “play” as an activity seriously enough to warrant alternative words. Just think of the Ant and the Grasshopper, Aesop’s tale of the sturdy Ant who worked while the grasshopper played his fiddle. Here is the fable as presented on “Tales With Morals:”:
In a field one summer’s day, a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants
distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:
Moral of Aesop’s Fable: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity
The Grasshopper dies in the end. That will teach him to play.
Play is serious business. Its also serious fun.