rat race


(RAT rays)


noun: A repetitive competitive activity, such as the modern working life in which one constantly struggles to attain wealth, status, etc.


From rat, from Old English raet (rat) + race, from Old Norse ras (race). Earliest documented use: 1937.


The term started out as a literal racing of rats (earliest use 1783). Then it was used as military slang (1931) to refer to planes or ships chasing each other or racing. Eventually the term evolved into its current sense. Imagine a rat running through a laboratory maze to find another piece of cheese or an employee hoping to climb the next rung of the corporate ladder while sacrificing personal health and peace and you’d have a good idea of the term rat race. In French, a popular expression métro, boulot, dodo (commute, work, sleep) refers to the daily grind. Also see, sisyphean.


“Tayler had submerged herself into this slowpaced life and wasn’t ready to get back to the rat race.”
Bridget Anderson; When I Fall in Love; Harlequin Kimani; 2016.