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[pos-uh m] /ˈpɒs əm/
Australian. any of various phalangers, especially of the genus Trichosurus.
play possum, Informal.
  1. to feign sleep or death.
  2. to dissemble or pretend ignorance:
    The baseball broke the window, but the children played possum when asked who had thrown it.
Origin of possum
1605-15, Americanism; short for opossum Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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British Dictionary definitions for play possum


an informal name for opossum (sense 1)
(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
play possum, to pretend to be dead, ignorant, asleep, etc, in order to deceive an opponent
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for play possum



1610s, shortened form of opossum. Phrase play possum is first recorded 1822.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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play possum in Culture

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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Idioms and Phrases with play possum

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 Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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