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play up to

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Curry favor with, flatter, as in There's no use playing up to the boss; it doesn't influence him. This expression originated about 1800 in the theater, where it meant “to support or assist another actor.” Within a couple of decades it was being used in other venues.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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