play possum, to

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play possum

1. To pretend to be dead; to play dead (typically so a predatory animal will lose interest and leave one alone). A reference to the involuntary defense mechanism of the North American opossum. If we encounter a bear in the woods, is it better to play possum or try to run?
2. By extension, to pretend to be asleep, inactive, or unaware as a means of avoiding someone or something. Josh just puts his head down and plays possum whenever the boss looks for someone to do a job for him. I played possum in my room when I heard my mom shouting about the broken lamp.
See also: play, possum
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

play possum

Fig. to pretend to be inactive, unobservant, asleep, or dead. (The possum refers to an opossum.) I knew that Bob wasn't asleep. He was just playing possum. I can't tell if this animal is dead or just playing possum.
See also: play, possum
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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 also: play, possum
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

play possum

LITERARY
If someone plays possum, they try to make people ignore them by pretending to be dead or asleep. `Playing possum, huh?' said Joe. `Right,' said Frank. `I figured it might be interesting to hear what they had to say to each other when they thought I was unconscious.' Note: The possum or opossum is a North American and Australian animal. If it is threatened by another animal it sometimes lies still, as if it is dead, so that the animal will lose interest.
See also: play, possum
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

play possum

1 pretend to be asleep or unconscious when threatened. 2 feign ignorance.
This expression, recorded from the early 19th century in the USA, refers to the opossum's habit of feigning death when threatened or attacked (possum is an informal US term for an opossum).
See also: play, possum
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

play ˈpossum

(informal) pretend to be asleep or not aware of something, in order to deceive somebody: Jake decided that his best course of action would be to play possum and wait for her to give up.
A possum is a small Australian and American animal that pretends to be dead when it is in danger.
See also: play, possum
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

play possum

To pretend to be sleeping or dead.
See also: play, possum
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

play possum, to

To pretend ignorance; to feign sleep or death. This term comes from the fact that opossums fall into a kind of coma when they are caught, appearing to be dead. Whether the animal is genuinely paralyzed by fear or is smart enough to dissemble has never been determined. The term originated in the United States in the early 1820s. An early use was Adiel Sherwood’s in A Gazetteer of the State of Georgia (1829): “He is playing ’possum with you.”
See also: play
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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