Page 1 of 2

Rats!

Posted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 4:43 pm
by dsteve54
Why do we exclaim "Rats!" when something goes awry! I was talking via IM with my friend in St. Petersburg (Russia), mainly in Russian, but something I was doing was not working and I suddenly "said", "Rats!".

She responds, "Rats????????" (it is LITERALLY "крысы!!!!" in Russian, but to them, that is simply like yelling "Large rodent! Large rodent! over and over)....I had to explain to her that the semantic equivalent for them is, probably among others, "фу!", which I think was more generally associated when something is repugnant, as we would say "yuck/yuk!" when we step in so-called "dog doo"...ha ha, what a phrase in itself. But now for them it can be used in any number of situations where something is going contrary to what you might want or expect.

So anyway, I was trying to explain in Russian why we exclaim "Rats!", and frankly, I could not do it ! Ha ha...
So, if anyone knows the origin of usage in this way, I would be interested....I would ASSUME it was simply an extension of situations when people would see a rat in their house and exclaim, but think about this: we do not yell out "Mice!" in such situations.

Ok, well, thanks in advance for any help....these Russians are always curious about linguistic topics....

Posted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:24 pm
by bnjtokyo
According to the etymological dictionary that you can access through this web site by typing "rat" into the "look it up" box on the top page, "rats" as an interjection is American English from 1886. Earlier uses of "rat" as a noun with negative connotations are "rat hole" from 1812 and "rat," "one who abandons his associates" is from 1629. "To smell a rat" is from 1550.

It seems to me that the interjection is related to the idea behind "to smell a rat." We are likely to say either expression when things aren't going as planned, when we don't expect to reach a satisfactory outcome.

Then in recent history, Charlie Brown would express his frustration by shouting "RATS." It provided us all with a word we could use to express frustration in polite company.

Posted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:39 pm
by dsteve54
Thanks!

Wow, I was waaaaaaaaaaaay off on this one.....I was thinking more along the lines of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague)....finally, I realized that at the time that was happening, they did not know WHAT was causing it...perhaps an "ether", etc.

It did not dawn on me to think "way" back to gangsters...although I was familiar with James Cagney (e.g. "You dirty rat; you ....".)

I need to remember to use that etymological dictionary...thanks for bringing it to mind!

Posted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:15 am
by Stargzer
Even without knowledge of their role in the propagation of the Plauge, I'm sure that rats were not something most people cared to associate with, even in Medieval times. A friend who recently spent several weeks in one of the older buildings at a major hospital in Baltimore remarked that from several stories up he could see the rats holding races and block parties below his window.

Now try to explain Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's one-word reply to the Germans when asked for his surrender at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge: "NUTS!"

Posted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:52 am
by dsteve54
Oh no...I write this, supposedly in response to bnjtokyo

{
It did not dawn on me to think "way" back to gangsters...although I was familiar with James Cagney (e.g. "You dirty rat; you ....".)
}

...What in the heck am I talking about? This does not even fit any of the responses that bnjtokyo made.....I think I am having a "bad day"...I probably glanced initially at "smell a rat", associated it with gangsters and started yammering on keyboard; later I read my stuff in more detail and there was no matchup. My only out; I have been lacking decent sleep lately. Sorry about that.

Well, I will try to do better "some other day". Thanks to all for feedback.

Posted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:57 am
by Slava
Stargzer wrote:A friend who recently spent several weeks in one of the older buildings at a major hospital in Baltimore remarked that from several stories up he could see the rats holding races and block parties below his window.
Reminds me a bit of a story I heard in Moscow. Some Westerner was visiting someone in a local hospital and noticed cats wandering about. When he asked what they were doing there, he got the answer, "They're for the mice."

Shudder.

Posted: Wed Jul 01, 2009 12:46 am
by Stargzer
Slava wrote: ...Reminds me a bit of a story I heard in Moscow. Some Westerner was visiting someone in a local hospital and noticed cats wandering about. When he asked what they were doing there, he got the answer, "They're for the mice."

Shudder.
Hey, pesticides are expensive and dangerous in a hospital setting. It's a Green solution that farmers have used for millenia. Downside: you might have to give patients like me and anti-histamine, but that could raise blood pressure, too. Life is all about balance ...

:)

The Soviets were always about low-tech: wooden heat shields that slowly burned away on their early reentry vehicles, using a pencil instead of a gas-pressurized ballpoint pen in space, the reactor at Chernobyl ...

Posted: Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:56 am
by Slava
Stargzer wrote:using a pencil instead of a gas-pressurized ballpoint pen in space
Probably apocryphal, but I do like this tale.

Posted: Wed Jul 01, 2009 12:48 pm
by Stargzer
Slava wrote:
Stargzer wrote:using a pencil instead of a gas-pressurized ballpoint pen in space
Probably apocryphal, but I do like this tale.
Alas, a bit of an urban legend, but I did have a Fisher Space Pen that would write upside down and through grease or butter, but I lost it long ago (the pen, too. ;) ).

Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 1:35 pm
by LukeJavan8
'rats', said Charlie Brown.

Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 6:56 pm
by Enigma
Where I come from, 'rats' is also used to talk ill of an act performed by one friend to another.

"That's rats how you ate my toast!"

"Rats, bro."

Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 10:06 pm
by LukeJavan8
Curious use of the term; I've never heard that one.
But you Kiwi's talk funny.

Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 10:15 pm
by Enigma
But you Kiwi's talk funny.
I agree.

Unlike the US however, there is a huge disparity in the way different people speak, as opposed to the way different reigons speak.

The Maori and the Pacific Islanders who travel here have many different ways of saying things, mostly intelligible though.

Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 10:18 pm
by LukeJavan8
Just teasing, did not mean anything serious. There is
a discussion on some other thread here( I forget where)
about keeping the various dialects going. I go to a
AA meeting and we have a man from NZ there. He is
a greatpleasure to listen to.

Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 10:20 pm
by Enigma
No offence taken. i actually dislike the way many of us speak. Many sound uneducated because of the odd dialects. It's a shame. I refrain from conforming to these dialects, but I wouldn't say I sound as proper as the English :)