Green’s Dictionary of Slang

rat n.1

1. with ref. to negative stereotypes of the animal which in nature possesses none of these characteristics.

(a) [late 16C+] an unpleasant person.

(b) [19C+] a person who changes allegiance out of self-interest; thus the act of changing allegiance (see cite 1906).

(c) [19C+] an informer; also attrib.

(d) a bailiff, a sheriff’s officer.

(e) [late 19C] (US) a worker who undercuts standards established by unionized labour.

(f) [late 19C] a cunning, deceitful person.

(g) [late 19C+] (orig. Aus.) a street urchin.

(h) [20C+] a person, esp. an enthusiast.

(i) [1900s] (US Und.) a thieving prisoner.

(j) [1900s] (Aus.) a bus inspector.

(k) [1940s] (US) the quality of being an informer.

(l) [1950s-70s] (Aus. Und.) an incompetent.

2. [17C–mid-19C] a clergyman.

3. [17C–mid-19C] a drunkard who has been (breaking street lamps and) arrested and taken to the cells; thus Rat’s Castle, the Poultry Counter prison [drunk as a rat adj.] .

4. (Aus.) in pl., usu. constr. with the, in context of emotions.

(a) [mid-19C–1920s] tetchiness, bad temper.

(b) [1950s] constr. with the, a state of madness.

(c) [late 19C+] a hangover, delirium tremens; usu. as in the rats.

5. with ref. to the rat’s fur.

(a) [mid-19C+] (US) a hair-pad with tapering ends used as the base of the elaborate pompadour hairstyles affected by women in the late 19C, thus v. rat, to use such an embellishment [also the shape of its tail].

(b) [1930s] (US black) a wig.

(c) [1990s+] the female genitals.

6. f. backform. ratty adj. (2)

(a) [1910s] (UK juv.) a bad temper.

(b) [1910s-20s] (Aus.) a bout of madness.

(c) [1920s] an obsession, an eccentricity.

7. [1990s+] (US campus) a promiscuous, attractive woman [SE but ? Fr. rat, a young woman, esp. a young ballet dancer aged 7–14; cited as a young whore in Balzac A Harlot High and Low (1839–47)].

In compounds

rat shop (n.)

[late 19C+] (US) anywhere that employs non-union labour.

In phrases

night-rat (n.)

[mid-17C] a hooligan, a drunkard.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

rat-and-fowl (n.)

see separate entry.

rat-arse (n.) (also rat-ass)

1. [1950s+] (orig. US) a general term of abuse; also as adj. [arse n. (1)/-ass sfx ].

2. [1990s+] a drunk [backform. f. rat-arsed ].

rat-assed (adj.) (also ratty-ass, ratty-assed)

[1960s+] dirty, untidy.

rat back clip (n.) [the supposed similarity to a rat’s fur]

[mid-19C] a short haircut.


see separate entries.

rat bastard (n.)

[1920s+] (orig. US) a general term of abuse; also as adj.

ratboy (n.)

1. [1980s] (US drugs) a street chemist, testing illicit drugs for purity.

2. [1990s+] a young boy exploited by a paedophile.

rat-brained (adj.)

[1910s+] cunning, duplicitous.

rat(’s) coffin (n.)

[1980s+] (Aus.) a meat pie.

rat-drawn (adj.) [? a rat’s pointed nose]

[1960s] (US black) of shoes, pointed; such shoes were part of the pimp’s ‘uniform’.

rat face (n.)

[1910s+] (orig. US) a contemptible person, esp. if treacherous or cunning; also as a derog. term of address.

rat-faced (adj.) (also rat-face)

[mid-19C+] a general term of abuse, the image is of a thin, mean face.

rat fink

see separate entries.

rat fuck/fucker/fucking

see separate entries.

rat heap (n.)

[1970s] (Aus.) an unpleasant, dirty place.


see separate entries.

rathouse (n.) [ratty adj. (2a)/bandhouse n.]

1. [20C+] (Aus., also rat-factory) a psychiatric institution.

2. [1940s–50s] any situation that drives one crazy.

3. [1980s+] (Aus. prison) a prison.

rat muncher (n.)

[1980s+] a general term of abuse.

rat-on (n.)

[2000s] (N.Z.) an erection.


see separate entries.

rat prick (n.) [prick n. (3)]

[1940s+] a general term of abuse.

rat-prick (adj.)

[1960s+] a general abusive epithet.

rat’s ass (n.)

see separate entry.

rats’ castle (n.) [its population of lit. or fig. ‘vermin’]

1. [early 18C] a prison, esp. the Poultry Counter, a prison in London.

2. [19C] (UK und.) a notorous tenement in St Giles, London WC.


see separate entries.

rat’s piss (n.)

1. [1980s+] weak beer or other alcoholic drink.

2. as a measure of insignificance.

rat’s tail (n.) [the fashion – as part of the mullet n.2 – and thus the word, re-emerged in 1980s]

1. [early 18C] a pig-tail, as fashionable as a man’s hairstyle.

2. [1920s–60s] (US black) a straight-haired wig.

rat-tail (adj.) (also rat-tailed)

[19C+] a general term of disapproval, disdain.

rat trap

see separate entries.

In phrases

drunk as a rat (adj.)

see separate entry.

get a rat (v.) (also have a rat)

[late 19C-1920s] (Aus./N.Z.) to act crazily in an eccentric manner.

get rats (v.) (also have rats)(Aus./N.Z.)

1. [mid–late 19C] to feel unwell, ‘out of sorts’.

2. [mid-19C+] to be very drunk.

3. [1900s] to act in a cowardly manner.

4. [late 19C-1900s] (Aus.) to be punished.

give green rats (v.) [the link of green to envy/jealousy]

[19C] to slander someone in their absence, to backbite.

give someone rats (v.)

1. [late 19C–1910s] (Aus.) to drive someone mad.

2. [20C] (Aus./US) to scold, to reprimand.

go the rat (v.)

[1990s+] (Aus.) to act without restraint.

have the rats (v.)

[1910s] (Aus.) to suffer delirium tremens.

like a rat up a drainpipe (adv.) (also like a rat up a pump, ...up a rafter, ...up a rope, ...up a spout)

[late 19C+] very quickly, usu. used in a sexual context.

make rat (v.) (also rat in) [Fr. Creole faire (le) rat, to act like a rat; ult. the negative stereotype of the rat]

[20C+] (W.I.) to sneak into without paying, to gatecrash.

no rats (n.) [‘it being supposed that a Scot is always associated with bagpipes, and that no rat can bear the neighbourhood of that musical instrument’ (Ware)]

[late 19C–1900s] a Scotsman.

rat out (v.)

[20C+] (W.I.) of a woman, to work as a prostitute.

rats in the attic (also rats in one’s/the garret, infested with rats) [var. on SE have bats in the belfry]

[late 19C+] insane, mad.

rat track whisky (n.)

[1920s] (drugs) very strong whisky.

street rat (n.)

[20C+] (US) a street child, usu. the homeless offspring of Irish immigrants.

In exclamations