Two can play at that game is an idiom with an uncertain origin. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying two can play at that game, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.
Two can play at that game is a phrase that means if someone harms you, you intend to harm them in return. For instance, if someone cheats you in business, you may find a way to also cheat him in business. Two can play at that game is a statement of intent to retaliate in kind. When someone says two can play at that game, he feels justified in his actions. The phrase became popular in the mid-1800s. The origin of the expression two can play at that game is unclear; it seems reasonable to assume it is a quotation from a long-forgotten book or play because of its theatrical and literary flair.
While the PLAAF continues to launch aggressive flights into Taiwan’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), it appears that two can play at that game. (Asia Times)
Last year, proving two can play at that game, the Guild itself conducted and published a pay study at the paper that found that the company was underpaying younger women and people of color, occasioning hasty assurancesthat management would act after the study hit the news. (Columbia Journalism Review)
One is a simple retaliation—if you’re trying to talk to someone, and they’re on their phone, well, two can play at that game. (The Atlantic)