Green’s Dictionary of Slang

possum n.

1. (US) a coward [one of the animal’s characteristics is feigning death when threatened].

Adkins ‘Early Americanisms’ in AS VIII:1 (1933) 75: A ’Possum. The western phrase for a paltry fellow—a coward.
[US]Columbia Democrat (Bloomsburg, PA) 24 Oct. 3/2: We see the federal papers fiving this name to their party — Democratic Whigs! — Possum up a gum tree.
[US](con. 1899) H.P. Bailey Shanghaied Out of Frisco 96: Senn, the invalid, a possum!
[Aus](con. 1940s) ‘David Forrest’ Last Blue Sea 37: He’s a possum.

2. (also opossum) a person (used either affectionately or derog.).

[UK]Thackeray Ravenswing (1887) 87: Wine here, you waiter! What’s your name, you black nigger? ’Possum up a gum tree, eh?
[Aus]Sydney Herald 15 July 2/3: This man called in Co- lonial slang, ‘Oppossum Jack’ is a runaway from a government gang.
[UK] ‘Lay of Mr. Colt’ in Martin & Aytoun Bon Gaultier Ballads 71: The loafer sitting next to them / Attempts a sly caress,/ And whispers, ‘Oh! you possum, / You’ve fixed my heart, I guess!’.
[Ire]Cork Examiner 3 Dec. 4/4: Chaw me if liberty ain’t a long sight better off in the hands of that old possum Nicholas.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 17 Jan. 12/4: The ancient opossum who edits the Cooktown Independent appears to be sliding off his bojar.
[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 2 Dec. 18/2: By the time the copper cleared the station, that ’possum was half-way to Parramatta.
[Aus]D. Niland Shiralee 55: The curs and possums who get silly-drunk and fall in fear to your authority.
[Aus]B. Humphries Barry McKenzie [comic strip] in Complete Barry McKenzie (1988) 102: This possum fixin’ you up proper?
[Aus]J. Hibberd Dimboola (2000) 71: What a pack of possums you’ve turned out to be. Starting without me.
[Aus]R. Beckett Dinkum Aussie Dict. 41: Possum: An Australian term of endearment, as in ‘You little possum, you’.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 22 Jan. 11: Hello, Pommie possums...

3. (Aus.) a fraudulent substitution [play on SE ring-tail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) + ring in v.1 (1)].

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 7 Mar. 15/3: ‘It’s no wonder that sheila took 6 to 4 about this,’ gasped a fog-horn-voiced fielder [...] ‘I stretched a point for ’er, and bli’ me, she wanted ter go on. It smells like a “possum” ter me’.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 9 July 3/2: [He] mustered well over a dozen men who bet well and told them that he had a ‘possum’ going off. [...] He is alleged to have told them that the pony was a well-known galloper which had been made a ‘blonde’ and that it could carry half the field on its back and then win.
[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. (2nd edn) 61: Possum, a ‘ring-in’.
[Aus]Sun (Sydney) 30 Jan. 25/3: It didn’t help when they found out later on that, like their own dog, the winner was a ‘possum’.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 16 May 41/5: I immediately raced across to where the stipes [...] were climbing down from their stand and I challenged them. ‘That thing,’ I said, pointing to Maister Jolly, ‘that’s a possum (ringtail). I can’t prove it right now, but I’ll bet you both a quid that it’s a possum’’ .

4. (US) a black person.

[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 51: possum, n. A negro, or negress.
[US]R. Bolwell ‘College Sl. Words And Phrases’ in DN IV:iii 234: ’possum, n. The negro errand boy in the college office.
[US] ref. in H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 94: There is the white sheriff in the film Mississippi Burning (1988) who declares in the vernacular of the rural South in the 1960s that NAACP stands for ‘Niggers, Apes, Alligators, Coons, and Possums’.
[UK]C. Gaines Stay Hungry 148: The yahoo, slatternly, redneck, possum-poor, country South itself.
[US]Maledicta VII 26: Rural blacks were called possum, from opossum, supposedly from hunting or eating them.

5. (Aus.) a fool, esp. a trickster’s victim; sometimes intensified as posso-de-luxe n.

[Aus]Smith’s Wkly (Sydney) 11 Aug. 15/4: Me, Robbo, Darkie and Adelaide Jack was sitting in the bar when the possum blew in; ’arf molo.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 130: Fools of one kind and another [...] flathead, possum, gammy, [etc.]. [Ibid.] 142: Jay and possum, a trickster’s victim.
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ Gone Fishin’ 105: Man needs to be a bit of a possum to run a pub.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

possum-belly (n.) [thus used for similar arrangements on livestock and circus wagons]

1. ‘a baggy, dried cowhide fastened horizontally beneath the wagon box and used for carrying a reserve of fuel’ (P.A. Rollins, Gone Haywire, 1939); also as a term of abuse.

(con. mid-19C) C.F. Carter When Railroads Were New 124: The ‘Possum Belly’ car had a huge box or cellar beneath the floor of the car into which mail-bags, portmanteaus, and bundles could be thrust.
[US]Maines & Grant Wise-crack Dict. 12/1: Possum belly – Tent stake box carried under circus railroad cars.
[US]K. Nicholson Barker I i: Go on, you old possum-belly, I’ll throw a moth in your moustache!
[US]‘Dean Stiff’ Milk and Honey Route 212: Possum belly – The boxes under passenger cars where hobos sometimes ride.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 149: Possum Belly.– [...] the large tool or supply box suspended from the floor of a passenger car or caboose, in which it is sometimes possible for a tramp to ride, and in which, at one time, it was common practice for cheap circus and carnival bosses to require some of their labourers to sleep on the road, thus saving their car fare.
[US]F.H. Hubbard Railroad Avenue 356: Possum Belly – Toolbox under a caboose.
[US]Sat. Eve. Post 25 Dec. 69/3: As a matter of fact, a caboose has something like that, too—the ‘possum’s belly,’ a long storage space beneath the car for holding tools and heavy equipment [DA].
(con. late 19C) S. Vestal Dodge City: Queen of Cowtowns 88: A cowhide ‘possum belly’ swung underneath to hold wood or cow chips for the fire.
W.E. Vance Law and Outlaw 147: Cantrell squatted and thrust the light forward, revealing the possum belly.
[US]‘Randy Everhard’ Tattoo of a Naked Lady 28: We tumbled out of the possum-belly.

2. (US tramp) to ride under a railroad car.

[US]N. Klein ‘Hobo Lingo’ in AS I:12 652: Possum belly—riding the deck of a passenger coach.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
possum-eater (n.) [their supposed diet]

(Aus.) a peasant, a country bumpkin; thus possum-eating, countrified.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 17 Feb. 14/4: Considering the large number of your 40-cat-power aboriginality contributors fed on backblox snake and salt-bush and belar ’possum, it is remarkable I have read nothing [...] of the ‘bilby.’ [...] Perhaps some of your ’possum eating liars will oblige with some solid and interesting information about the bilby and its habits, and give snake-eating a rest.
[Aus]D. Niland Big Smoke 10: Listen, you old possum-eater, who’re you trying to pass on to me?
[US](con. 1960s) G. Washington Blood Brothers 35: Then in walked the sergeant, nailed up two lists, faced us with his usual possum-eatin’ shit grin and left without a word.
possum-guts (n.) [reflecting a low opinion of the animal]

1. (Aus.) a general term of abuse.

[UK]H. Kingsley Recollections of G. Hamlyn 262: I’ll teach you to whistle when a gentleman comes into the hut—you Possumguts! Lie down now, will you?
Colonial Eng. 37: Possum-guts (bush), a term of contempt.
J.D. Clark Beastly Folklore 59: A possum-guts, in Australia, is a very low specimen of humanity.
D. McLean World Turned Upside Down 10: The big bloke’s Danny Fenton, [...] and his mate’s Skinny Harford, a proper possum-guts.

2. (Aus.) a coward; thus possum-gutted adj., cowardly.

[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 89: To ring one’s tail, to be cowardly (the terms ringtail and possum-guts for a coward show that the origin is the possum).
possum-rider (n.)

(US campus) a promiscuous person.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Nov. 9: possunm-rider – someone who is indiscriminate in the choice of sexual partners.
possum-scoffer (n.) [scoff v. (1)]

a Native Australian.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 14 Nov. 16/3: One of a Northern Territory tribe stole an axe from Joe Breadon, an overlander. Joe knew the thief, but wished to establish a reputation among the dusky ’possum-scoffers for being of more than average intelligence.

In phrases

come possum (v.)

1. (US) to act in a deceptive manner.

[Ire]Cork Examiner 6 June 4/5: Don’t come possum ober Yaller Fan when dis nigga present, or you’ll make his dander anger) riz!

2. see also under come the... v.

like a possum up a gum-tree (adv.)

(Aus.) absolutely contentedly, perfectly happily.

[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. 56: Like a possum up a gumtree, completely happy, in the best of spirits and contentment.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 87: Here are a few more similes snatched from our environment: [...] like a possum up a gum-tree (the gum-tree is the only Australian part of this phrase).
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 235/2: like a possum up a gum tree – completely happy.
E. Wier Rumptydoolers 21: Smellin’ her own lamb’s jacket makes her feel like a possum up a gum tree, real happy like.
E. Fuller Emu in the Sky 179: ‘Remember when I told you about all those mystical revelations I had at the watering hole, ...’ ‘Ya was like a possum up a gum tree awright’.
stir the possum (v.) (also rouse the possum) [the animal’s habit of keeping quite still for long periods]

(Aus.) to create a disturbance, to start things moving, to jolt the general apathy.

Aus. Town and Country Jrnl (Sydney) 16 June 15/4: Sir John Coover’s report having ‘stirred the possum’ in a surprising manner.
[Aus]Leader (Melbourne) 27 Aug. 30/2: As a ‘backblocker’ would' say, they had ‘stirred the ’possum in him,’ and if the present Government was put out [...] he would be found fighting for Dundas again.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 19 Dec. 1/2: When, on the subject of pimps, is W.P. Crick going to ‘stir the possum’ in that lovely [...] informer Gustav Andrew Anderson?
[Aus]R. Park Poor Man’s Orange 9: For a mission was like a tonic. It stirred the ’possum in the people.
[Aus]R. Beckett Dinkum Aussie Dict. 49: Stir the possum: To creat uproar.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 153: stirring, or stirring the possum, while not restricted to the workplace, is often practised on the job by those with an axe to grind, or just a desire to needle, niggle and annoy their fellow-workers and/or the bosses. stirring may take various forms. It can be simply bantering, name-calling, sending up or taking the piss. More seriously it can involve jokes, hoaxes, and even mild forms of sabotage.
[NZ] McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl.