- Australian. any of various phalangers, especially of the genus Trichosurus.
- play possum, Informal.
- to feign sleep or death.
- to dissemble or pretend ignorance: The baseball broke the window, but the children played possum when asked who had thrown it.
Origin of possum
- an informal name for opossum (def. 1)
- Also called: phalanger Australian and NZ any of various Australasian arboreal marsupials, such as Trichosurus vulpecula (brush-tailed phalanger), having dense fur and a long tail: family Phalangeridae
- play possum to pretend to be dead, ignorant, asleep, etc, in order to deceive an opponent
Word Origin and History for play possum
1610s, shortened form of opossum. Phrase play possum is first recorded 1822.
To pretend to be dead, a trick used by opossums to defend themselves from predators: “Everyone thought the old con man had died, but it turned out he was just playing possum.” By extension, it also means “to pretend to be asleep, or to lie low”: “Come on, Harry, open your door. You can't play possum forever.”
Idioms and Phrases with play possum
Pretend to be dead or asleep, as in Max always plays possum when it's time to clean up his room. This expression alludes to the fact that the opossum falls into an apparent coma when caught, giving the appearance of death. [1820s]
see play possum.