Smell a rat

Posted by James Briggs on March 12, 2003

In Reply to: Smell a rat posted by ESC on March 12, 2003

: : Any ideas on the origin of to "smell a rat?"

: Guessing here. A "rat" means a snitch or informer. "Smelling a rat" -- not to gross anyone out, but have you ever smelled a dead rat in a wall? Very bad odor. Joining those two concepts together, a person says, "I smell a rat" when treachery is suspected.

To smell a rat is to be suspicious of a situation. It is said to come from the days when rats were common pests and carriers of disease. Dogs were prized for their ability to smell out and destroy them. A dog which began to sniff around might well have smelt a rat, and this idea was transferred to a person who was suspicious of something.