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

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice


Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The One-in-a-Million Boy
by Monica Wood

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    If We Were Villains
    by M. L. Rio

    An intelligent and captivating story of the enduring power and passion of words.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

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 books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -