The term rat race is an idiom that seems to have originated in the 1930s, in the United States. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the definition of the term rat race, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
A rat race is a fierce, competitive way of life that involves pursuing goals in a repetitive, endless manner. The idea behind the expression rat race is a group of laboratory rats racing through a maze in order to be the first one to obtain cheese. In this case, the rats are at the mercy of the experimenter and the degree of difficulty he designed into the maze. Being involved in the rat race feels as though one is at the mercy of others or of other forces. The term rat race is usually rendered with the definite article the, as in the rat race. The exact origin of the term rat race is unknown. It may come from the practice of testing rats in laboratories, or it may come from actual rat-racing sporting events held in the 1800s. Note that rat race is hyphenated when used as an adjective before a noun.
AN INTREPID couple have turned their backs on the rat race to embark on a round-the-world sailing trip – with their kids and pet cat in tow. (The Sun)
“Mull is a beautiful place and it is becoming more and more popular with people from down south who want out of the rat race,” says James MacGillivray, whose family farm on the island is a ferry ride from Oban in Argyll and Bute. (The Daily Express)
In 2005 he moved with Val to France to ‘escape the rat race’ and restored the old stone house – bought 20 years previously – the restaurant is in. (The Daily Mail)