Old English plegan, plegian "move rapidly, occupy or busy oneself, exercise; frolic; make sport of, mock; perform music," from West Germanic *plegan "occupy oneself about" (cf. 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"), from PIE root *dlegh- "to engage oneself," forming words in Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and possibly Latin.
Meaning "to take part in a game" is from c.1200. Opposed to work (v.) since late 14c. Related: Played; playing. To play up "emphasize" is from 1909; to play down "minimize" is from 1930; to play along "cooperate" is from 1929. To play with oneself "masturbate" is from 1896; play for keeps is from 1861, originally of marbles or other children's games with tokens. To play second fiddle in the figurative sense is from 1809 ("Gil Blas"). To play into the hands (of someone) is from 1705. To play the _______ card is attested from 1886; to play fair is from mid-15c. To play (something) safe is from 1911; to play favorites is attested from 1902. For play the field see field (n.).
Old English plega (West Saxon), plæga (Anglian) "quick motion; recreation, exercise, any brisk activity" (the latter sense preserved in swordplay, etc.), from or related to Old English plegan (see play (v.)). Meaning "dramatic performance" is attested by early 14c., perhaps late Old English. Meaning "free or unimpeded movement" of mechanisms, etc., is from c.1200. By early Middle English it could mean variously, "a game, a martial sport, activity of children, joke or jesting, revelry, sexual indulgence." Sporting sense "the playing of a game" first attested mid-15c.; sense of "specific maneuver or attempt" is from 1868. To be in play (of a hit ball, etc.) is from 1788. Play-by-play is attested from 1927. Play on words is from 1798. Play-money is attested from 1705 as "money won in gambling," by 1920 as "pretend money."
Old English macian "to make, form, construct, do; prepare, arrange, cause; behave, fare, transform," from West Germanic *makon "to fashion, fit" (cf. Old Saxon makon, Old Frisian makia "to build, make," Middle Dutch and Dutch maken, Old High German mahhon "to construct, make," German machen "to make"), from PIE *mag- "to knead, mix; to fashion, fit" (see macerate). If so, sense evolution perhaps is via prehistoric houses built of mud. Gradually replaced the main Old English word, gewyrcan (see work (v.)).
Meaning "to arrive at" (a place), first attested 1620s, originally was nautical. Formerly used in many places where specific verbs now are used, e.g. to make Latin (c.1500) "to write Latin compositions." This broader usage survives in some phrases, e.g. to make water "to urinate," to make a book "arrange a series of bets" (1828), make hay "to turn over mown grass to expose it to sun." Make the grade is 1912, perhaps from the notion of railway engines going up an incline.
Read the valuable suggestions in Dr. C.V. Mosby's book -- be prepared to surmount obstacles before you encounter them -- equipped with the power to "make the grade" in life's climb. [advertisement for "Making the Grade," December 1916]But the phrase also was in use in a schoolwork context at the time. Make do "manage with what is available" is attested from 1867. Make time "go fast" is 1849; make tracks in this sense is from 1834. To make a federal case out of (something) popularized in 1959 movie "Anatomy of a Murder;" to make an offer (one) can't refuse is from Mario Puzo's 1969 novel "The Godfather." To make (one's) day is from 1909; menacing make my day is from 1971, popularized by Clint Eastwood in film "Sudden Impact" (1983). Related: Made; making.
"match, mate, companion" (now archaic or dialectal), from Old English gemaca "mate, equal; one of a pair, comrade; consort, husband, wife," from Proto-Germanic *gamakon-, related to Old English gemæcc "well-matched, suitable," macian "to make" (see make (v.)). Meaning "manner in which something is made, design, construction" is from c.1300. Phrase on the make "intent on profit or advancement" is from 1869.
Publicity; media coverage: The dangers of the Free Trade Agreement are getting more play (1929+)