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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.
stir the possum
To instigate or propagate something controversial, incendiary, or divisive. Primarily heard in Australia. The MP has been accused of stirring the possum with her social media post about the evils of same-sex marriage. I know this is likely to stir the possum, but I have to say my piece about how spoilt and sheltered kids are today.
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.
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]
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.
play possum1 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).
stir the possumstir up controversy; liven things up. Australian informal
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.
To pretend to be sleeping or dead.
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