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play it straight

  1. (idiomatic) To behave in a manner that is straightforward, honest, or sincere.
    • 1911, Basil King, The Street Called Straight, ch. 16:
      "The position you'd put me in would be this—of playing a game—and a jolly important game at that—in which the loser loses to me on purpose. . . . If we're going to play a game," he continued, addressing Davenant, before the latter had time to speak, "for Heaven's sake let us play it straight—like men. Let the winner win and the loser lose—"
    • 1992 July 29, Gwen Ifill, "The 1992 Campaign: Clinton counters on foreign policy," New York Times (retrieved 2 Sept 2017):
      He added, "I think the American people want a President who will play it straight in foreign policy, tell them the truth."
  2. (idiomatic, performing arts) To perform a role in a manner that is not comedic or exaggerated.
    • 1998 March 11, Mark Coatney, "Lloyd Bridges, 1913-1998," Time (retrieved 2 Sept 2017):
      And how can you not admire a man who could star in a stinker like Battlestar Galactica—and play it straight?
    • 2001 December 2, Lelsie Kandell, "Jersey Footlights: Playing It Straight," New York Times (retrieved 2 Sept 2017):
      Peter Schickele, the musical satirist and radio show host whose PDQ Bach Christmas concerts sell out Carnegie Hall each year, is not known for playing it straight.
  3. (idiomatic) To avoid criminal behavior.
    • 1976 July 11, Nicholas, "Don't call me an informant," New York Times (retrieved 2 Sept 2017):
      "But the best thing about him is that he always played it straight with us—never double‐dealed, giving us two and keeping one for himself."
    • 2013 October 7, Jim Harger, "'The Wolf of Wall Street' lectures Economic Club of Grand Rapids on ethics," MLive Media Group (retrieved 2 Sept 2017):
      Belfort, who made millions on Wall Street before the FBI indicted him and he served nearly two years in federal prison, told the audience he could have made a lot more money if he had played it straight.
    • 2017 July 19, Matt Lakin, "Jake Butcher, disgraced East Tennessee banking kingpin, dies," Knoxville News Sentinel (retrieved 2 Sept 2017):
      "They could have made a fortune just playing it straight, but that wasn't enough for them," said Gill. . . . The brothers ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and bank fraud.