The other day, someone posted to a dog obedience competitors’ list that her dog “didn’t give a rat’s ass” about earning one title or another. The first response came from a very experienced competitor, a new judge, who kidded, “Perhaps she should have said ‘rodent’s behind.’” A third judge joked, “Then you don’t know TJ, do you?” A funny exchange.
Of course, my mind tilts in more than one direction at once, so I, once again, wondered at the meaning of the phrase, “doesn’t give a rat’s ass.” Just what the blazes does that mean? What is the importance of a rodent’s posterior, and why would anyone give or withhold one? The phrase, of course, indicates one’s lack of interest in the topic at hand, but why a rat’s ass?
Sometimes, a diligent search, or a short investigation, reveals the root, the seed of a phrase, but at other times, the origin of things remains obscure. Such has been the case of the rat’s ass. Idioms are all over the place, and multi-versioned, reflecting the country of use.
In England, to be “rat-arsed” means to be drunk, but it’s a more modern idiom, having stumbled into British usage in the 1990’s. One wonders about its connection to “not giving a rat’s ass…” perhaps once you’re rat-arsed, you no longer give a rat’s ass. Either way, it’s just another example of the strange inventiveness of the human mind searching for a clever imprecation.