Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 09:45:38 -0500

From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU

Subject: Re: Rat's -ss

On Mon, 27 Oct 1997, Jody (Joseph Streible, Jr.) (jcstre01[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]


Class discussion has lead to a question about a specific term used quite

often in the English language (at least, the English language to which I

am accustomed to listening).....the term "rat's ass" (i.e. I don't give a

rat's ass what he says!) What does it really mean? And where does it

originate? Also, are there any other terms that are similar in makeup

and usage?

I don't see it in the dictionaries (including a number of relatively recent

slang dictionaries) that I have lying around right here -- but I *have*

heard it, from people I know, and in fact have heard it on the radio on

bantering vernacular talk-shows where there is a premium on saying things

that sound somewhat shocking when said in the public forum of a radio

progam, but are not FCC-proscribed (i.e., you can say "ass" on the radio,

and you can certainly say "rat's"). It's not something I've heard gentler or

older people use -- it seems to be a "tough" expression where the user is

trying to sound cynical. I first heard it in the mid-1980's.

There is an older expression "in a pig's ass/arse" (sometimes euphemized as

"in a pig's eye") that goes back to the first half of the 20th century, and

is used as a dismissive response to a suggestion or idea. This phrase

reportedly came originally from a line, which later became a catch-phrase,

in an old bawdy song whose narrative line we the uninformed can only wonder

at. Maybe (???) "I don't give a rat's ass" is simply a variant or

intensification (?) of the harsh dismissiveness of the older animal's-ass

phrase??? (If so, research needed, unless someone turns up a written treatment.)

Maybe there's a military tie-in, as was suggested on the list last night --

dictionaries of slang and the like list a lot of miltary expressions that

contain "rat."

Maybe unrelated (???) is the British expression "rat-arsed," meaning really

drunk, which goes back to around 1980 or so.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]