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.”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
How to use play possum in a sentence
Why not, he asked himself, "play possum" with the man and the dog, and pretend to be badly hurt and unconscious?Motor Matt's "Century" Run | Stanley R. Matthews
To play possum when one hears the footfall of Fate on the stairs.The Roycroft Dictionary | Elbert Hubbard
Finding this game did not work, he soon began to "play possum" again.Bird Stories from Burroughs | John Burroughs
Other 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]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.