What Does Playing Possum Mean?

Playing Possum Meaning

Definition: Pretending to be dead.

People typically play possum to avoid something negative, such as being attacked, or to trick someone else.

Origin of Playing Possum

This expression comes from a type of marsupial called an opossum. This animal is famous for its defense tactic. Possums pretend to be dead whenever they perceive a threat.

Over time, people began to associate this animal behavior with humans who used this same method to avoid dangers of their own.

Examples of Playing Possum

what is playing possumTwo high school students use the idiom while discussing an upcoming camping trip.

Lisa: I’m finally done packing for our camping trip. What about you?

Jackie: Almost. My parents want me to take something so we can protect ourselves from bears.

Lisa: Something for bear protection? What do they think will protect us from bears?

Jackie: I have no idea.

Lisa: If we see a bear, it’s better just to play possum. It will leave you alone if it doesn’t think you are a threat.

Jackie: Are you sure? That seems dangerous.

possum playing possumIn the below dialogue, a man uses the expression while he is trying to fight another man.

Seth: Hey! Fight back!

Jimmy: Stop hitting me! (Jimmy falls to the ground and covers himself with his arms.)

Seth: What are you doing? Are you playing possum? Get up!

Jimmy: I’m not playing possum; I just don’t want to fight you. Calm down!

More Examples

In this example, a boy pretends to be dead while snipers are shooting at him. He stops playing possum when he thinks it is safe to help a girl and escape.

  • The rescue appears to take a turn for the worse as the youngster drops to the ground when it looks like he’s been blasted by incoming bullets. But apparently the boy was just playing possum and waiting for the perfect opportunity to make a run for it. –New York Post

The second news excerpt is about boxing. One of the athletes appeared to be unconscious, but, in reality, he was not.

  • He flopped around the ring on rubber legs, but appeared to be playing possum, perhaps to frustrate Frazier further. –New York Times

Summary

The phrase playing possum is another way describe someone who is lying still and not moving in order to convince others that he or she is dead.