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rat

(...)

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

(source: dictionary.reference.com)

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

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  • Rats! I always thought it was 'bats!' Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 20:59
  • Not particularly scholarly, but the use of "Rats" as an exclamation came into popular use in the Fifties, with a good deal of help from Scultz's Charlie Brown cartoon. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 21:24

2 Answers 2

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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.]

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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.

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  • According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "interjection rats is Amer.Eng., 1886."
    – b.roth
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 10:09
  • @Bruno: Merriam-Webster has the same year, but no reference
    – F'x
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 10:11
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    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
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 10:14
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    Lost the D in Drat? GoD rot 'Drot, Drat, Rat, Rats
    – mplungjan
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 10:50

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