Share this entry

Share this page

possum

Syllabification: pos·sum
Pronunciation: /ˈpäsəm
 
/

Definition of possum in English:

noun

1North American informal An opossum.
Example sentences
  • A favourite southern dish is possum and taters: the opossum is parboiled, then salted and peppered and roasted in a pan with peeled, roasted sweet potatoes.
2A tree-dwelling Australasian marsupial that typically has a prehensile tail.
Example sentences
  • It is what we, as carers of koalas, birds, possums, macropods (wallabies, kangaroos etc.) and other wildlife carers are trained to do.
  • Maybe you would see koalas, wombats, echidnas, brush tail and ring tail possums and emus if you're lucky.
  • In Tasmania we have such a huge amount of wildlife: brush tail possums, all sorts of animals that at a glimpse, at a distance in poor light or whatever, can appear to be a fox.

Origin

early 17th century: shortening of opossum.

More
  • An informal American term for the opossum, a marsupial whose name comes from a Native American word meaning ‘white dog’. This animal feigns death when it is threatened or attacked, which is why playing possum, an expression recorded from the early 19th century in the USA, is pretending to be asleep or unconscious when threatened. In Australia, to stir the possum is to stir up controversy or liven things up. The Australian possum is also a marsupial but is a different animal from its American counterpart.

Phrases

play possum

1
1Pretend to be asleep or unconscious when threatened (in imitation of an opossum’s behavior).
Example sentences
  • Today I did washing at home in my washing machine, on the off-chance that it'd just been playing possum, and lo and behold, it worked just fine.
  • After a retrospective release the band finally relented after 28 years of playing possum.
  • Isn't that playing possum stuff supposed to protect them?
2Feign ignorance.
Example sentences
  • He has obviously decided to put the boot in, knowing that the majority of unions have played possum for so long now on so much.

Words that rhyme with possum

blossom, opossum

Definition of possum in:

Share this entry

Share this page

 

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove ads and access premium resources

Word of the day cumbersome
Pronunciation: ˈkəmbərsəm
adjective
large or heavy and therefore difficult to carry…