Play possum

Play possum is an idiom that originated in the United States. We will examine the meaning of the idiom play possum, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Play possum is an idiom that means feigning death, pretending to be dead when faced with a life-threatening situation. Hikers and campers are often admonished to play possum if faced with an attack from a grizzly bear. Often, a grizzly bear will lose interest in its prey if it does not put up a fight. However, this is not always the case. Play possum is also used to describe someone who is pretending to be asleep. The idiom play possum appeared sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century, and is a reference to the defense mechanism displayed by the marsupial American opossum, more frequently referred to as a possum. This process is known scientifically as tonic immobility or thanatosis, or commonly referred to as playing dead. Other animals play possum as a defense mechanism, including fire-bellied toads and hognose snakes. Related phrases are plays possum, played possum, playing possum.

Examples

A few moments later he came to but realized that he had still better “play possum.” (The Manitoulin Expositor)

Playing possum can be fun, especially for an audience member who gets to join the cast up on stage for a live production in Pauls Valley later this week. (The Pauls Valley Democrat)

But it turned out Stokes had been playing possum as he attacked Australia’s bowlers on day four and smashed his last 84 runs from just 67 balls. (The Daily Mail)

And now he says he could have won a better deal, which seems incredulous as he played possum and undermined the bipartisan group of politicians federally and provincially who were all working together in the best interests of Canada. (The Toronto Sun)

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