Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

rat

(...)

  1. rats, Slang . (an exclamation of disappointment, disgust, or disbelief.)

(source: dictionary.reference.com)

Where does this meaning/usage of "rat" come from?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Drat is first used in the early 19th century as shortening of od rat, which was an euphemism for God rot.

Rats seems a shortening of od rat obtained by removing od, and used as plural to make it seems the plural of rat (the rodent).

[Reference: the New Oxford American Dictionary.]

share|improve this answer
    
is the “New Oxford American English” different from the “New Oxford American Dictionary”? and does it explicitly give this etymology, because I can't find it (in the NOAD)? –  F'x Feb 16 '11 at 12:58
    
Whoops. I meant New Oxford American Dictionary. –  kiamlaluno Feb 16 '11 at 13:08
add comment

Rats have a very negative image in the mind of people, and have had for long (I believe it started with 19th century’s urbanisation, and later intensified; earlier tales of rats feature them as rather nice animals living in fields).

They're typically associated with filth, bad smell, and have be blamed for transmitting diseases. This gave rise to a number of expressions, including “to smell a rat” and the associated meaning of rat (“a person regarded as despicable”). I believe this same popular perception of the animal is responsible for the interjection.

share|improve this answer
    
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "interjection rats is Amer.Eng., 1886." –  b.roth Feb 16 '11 at 10:09
    
@Bruno: Merriam-Webster has the same year, but no reference –  F'x Feb 16 '11 at 10:11
3  
But I wonder why mice, unlike rats, seem to have such positive image in the mind of people. Think of Mickey Mouse, Jerry (from Tom and Jerry), Fievel and other famous characters. –  b.roth Feb 16 '11 at 10:14
1  
Lost the D in Drat? GoD rot 'Drot, Drat, Rat, Rats –  mplungjan Feb 16 '11 at 10:50
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.