play possum

possum

[pos-uhm]
noun
2.
Australian. any of various phalangers, especially of the genus Trichosurus.
Idioms
3.
play possum, Informal.
a.
to feign sleep or death.
b.
to dissemble or pretend ignorance: The baseball broke the window, but the children played possum when asked who had thrown it.

Origin:
1605–15, Americanism; short for opossum

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World English Dictionary
possum (ˈpɒsəm)
 
n
1.  an informal name for opossum
2.  (Austral), (NZ) Also called: phalanger any of various Australasian arboreal marsupials, such as Trichosurus vulpecula (brush-tailed phalanger), having dense fur and a long tail: family Phalangeridae
3.  play possum to pretend to be dead, ignorant, asleep, etc, in order to deceive an opponent

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

possum
1613, shortened form of opossum (q.v.). Phrase play possum is first recorded 1822.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

play possum definition


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 American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

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® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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