By John McFerrin

For years, if not decades, persons in the know about the West Virginia Legislature have been offering the observation that “fat possums run late.”  For a while it was attributed to some early legislative leader.  From there it was quoted and repeated so many times that, at least as early as 2012, the Charleston Gazette was referring to ‘the proverbial fat possums” that move late at night.

It has never made a bit of sense to me.

From the context in which it is used, it is more or less understandable as meaning that pieces of legislation that are controversial, backed by powerful interests, or both often move through the legislative process late in the legislative session.  They also move stealthily.

How does “fat possums run late” describe that?

Most expressions mean something.  They came from somewhere and often made some sort of comparison. “That dog won’t hunt” means an argument is weak, will convince no one, and is therefore useless.   The expression is a comparison and a folksy way of comparing a useless argument to a dog that won’t hunt and is, therefore, useless.  “Keeping my powder dry” means the speaker intends to not act now but remain ready to act later. It is a reference to the time when gunpowder had to be kept dry so it would be useful later.  “Eating our seed corn” describes foregoing future benefit in exchange for something of lesser value now.  If we eat the corn we had saved to plant next year, there will be no crop next year.

I have heard about fat possums so many times that I can more or less guess what it means.  At the same time, I still don’t get it.