No, I won’t get political. I promise. I mean yes, this post was directly inspired by the fact that it’s just been announced that the former lawyer of the current president of the United States has pleased guilty to violating campaign law at the direction of said president, which reminded me of him recently calling someone in a roughly similar position a rat on Twitter recently.
No, I won’t get political. But I do wonder why we call someone who betrays others by giving up information a rat…
It’s probably not a huge surprise that it comes from the long-lasting belief that rats will desert a sinking a ship. This myth actually began about both rats and mice, and their apparent ability to detect if a building was about to collapse or burn down, which seems to have come about in the 16th century. Like rats fleeing a burning house became a common phrase, and in the late 17th century, it also came to be believed that rats would abandon a sinking ship. In the 18th century then, this expression became increasingly common, and it eventually completely replaced like rats fleeing a burning house.
It wasn’t much of a stretch for this to then be extended to refer to traitors in general. It’s a little unfair on the poor rats of course, who aren’t that bad. There might be some truth behind this expression, but it’s not due to rats’ extra-sensory powers. Some believe that as rats are usually found at the bottom of a ship, they’re in the areas which first fill with water, and are therefore the first to hightail it out of there. Of course rats are poor swimmers and they usually all drown, and that’s just another metaphor that’s too tempting when talking about current politics…
One thought on “You Dirty Rat!”
[…] was wondering why exactly we use rat to refer to informants, and remembered writing before about rats deserting sinking ships. I was going to link to that, when it began to dawn on me that maybe in that post I’d already […]