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Possum vs. Opposum

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Danielle from Wells, Vermont, wonders if there’s a difference between a possum and an opossum. Scientifically speaking, they’re two different animals. The word opossum comes from a similar-sounding Algonquian term that translates as “the white animal.” It’s easy to leave off that initial, unstressed O in opossum, which often happened quite early in the word’s borrowing into English. So either opossum or possum is correct for the North American animal, although possum is probably more widespread. Western explorers later brought the term possum to Australia, and applied it to a different marsupial there. This is part of a complete episode.

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