Why do we say "Like rats deserting a sinking ship"?

Well-Known Expressions

Like rats deserting a sinking ship

Meaning:

When facing a great crisis most will turn and run.

Background:

Rats have been said to be the first to sense an impending disaster, such as a sinking ship or a gas leak in a mine - so if rats are seen leaving it's a good idea to follow!

Early records of this expression go back all the way to Pliny The Elder's Natural History (77 AD): 'When a building is about to fall down, all the mice desert it'.

It also appears in a form closer to the modern usage in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act I, Scene II (1610):

Prospero: In few, they hurried us aboard a bark,
Bore us some leagues to sea; where they prepar'd
A rotten carcass of a boat, not rigg'd,
Nor tackle, sail, nor mast; the very rats
Instinctively had quit it.

Alphabetical list of expressions

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Call Me American
    by Abdi Nor Iftin
    As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Collection
    The Last Collection
    by Jeanne Mackin
    What it's about:
    The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin follows the lives of two internationally ...
  • Book Jacket: Mrs. Everything
    Mrs. Everything
    by Jennifer Weiner
    Mrs. Everything spans six decades of an American family. We meet the Kaufman sisters Josette 'Jo' ...
  • Book Jacket
    Tip of the Iceberg
    by Mark Adams
    In the late 19th century, railroad magnate Edward Harriman decided he needed a break from his ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Volunteer
    by Jack Fairweather

    The true story of one man, an underground army, and the secret mission to destroy Auschwitz from within.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Collection
    by Jeanne Mackin

    A vivid novel about the intense rivalry between iconic fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense…"
Entertainment Weekly

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win In the Full Light of the Sun

New from Clare Clark!

"Evocative prose and excellent pacing make this fine historical a must-read for art history buffs."
- Publishers Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A A A Day K T D A

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.