If You Stay In Britain You Will Know What A Drowned Rat Looks Like
Today’s English language lesson explains the idiom “Like a drowned rat”. At first the drowned meaning suggests something rather unpleasant. When you read this sentence for the first time, you might think this popular English idiom is talking about death. However this idioms modern everyday use in Britain has nothing to do with drowning at all. It’s more to do with getting wet through and you may have seen a lot of rain memes taking advantage of this idea.
So Let’s try a different way of thinking about what this idiom means.
Imagine that you put on your favourite pyjamas and dressing gown. Jump into a pool of freezing cold water. Climb out and stand in the pouring rain. Then after 30 minutes you were to go back inside your house and look at yourself in a mirror. That wet, shivering, soaked through reflection of you in the mirror is to look “Like a drowned rat”.
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This popular idiom if often used as a rain meme
Now there’s a phrase in English, which I notice that we use quite a bit. Here first of all is the context that I heard this phrase in – just 10 minutes ago! That’s making sure it’s current, isn’t it? Current English. So the background first of all. The weather in the UK has been unusually warm and sunny the last few weeks, during September. And the forecast for the 2nd week in October is still that it will be over 20C some days - again warm and sunny. So that’s unusual for the UK in October.
But today it’s raining. And it’s not just raining. It’s doing what we call ‘bucketing down’. That means that it’s raining quite a lot. I’m at home and I go into the kitchen and I’m told ‘Don’t open the door. Misha mustn’t come in’. So Misha is one of our cats. He’s a boy and they have Russian names because they are Siberian Forest Cats. Misha is short for Mikhail, I believe. That’s a Russian name. So I ask ‘Why can’t Misha come in?’. ‘He’s like a drowned rat!’ is the reply.
Not just a wet rat! wet enough to drown the rat
So first of all, vocabulary, if you are going to understand that phrase ‘like a drowned rat’. Well, first of all – a rat. A rat is an animal. Rats are a bit like a mouse, but larger and capable of doing more damage. They have teeth which can bite through all sorts of things, like wood or wires in your house. Also rats are more dangerous – they can bite, whereas you’re unlikely to be bitten by a mouse. Rats also live in sewers. Sewers are the pipes underground that carry away your waste water. And rats carry diseases – think of bubonic plague. That’s a disease that lots of people died of in the middle ages. So that’s a rat. Perhaps think of the film Ratatouille, if you know that one!
And ‘drowned’? Well, ‘to drown’ is a verb. And it’s not very nice – but if you drown literally, it means that you die because you go under water and you can’t breathe. If you’re at sea and the boat that you’re on sinks under the water – then you are at risk of dying by drowning. People also use the verb ‘to drown’ figuratively. You might say for example, ‘I’m drowning in work’. That’s means ‘I’ve got too much work’. ‘I’ve got more work than I can cope with’. So figuratively, ‘I’m drowning’.
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Whenever I think of rats, I think of giant sewer rats!
So why is Misha the cat ‘like a drowned rat’? Well, you can use that phrase of an animal or of a person. And if they look ‘like a drowned rat’, then they’re all wet. They’ve perhaps been out in the rain or they’ve fallen into some water. Their general appearance is a bit messy – they’re not looking their best. And if they’re ‘like a drowned rat’, the person or the animal has lost something of their normal grandeur. They look somewhat untidy, smaller, diminished for being wet. So in Misha’s case, if you can imagine a quite fluffy cat, who’s been outside all night in the rain. He is not looking his fluffy self! ‘Fluffy’ when it’s used in this sense, means that there’s lots of soft hair or fur, which sticks out, which has some volume to it! So Misha has changed from being a big fluffy cat to something that looks like a drowned rat. Small, thin, wet and a bit sad and desperate to come and lie on a nice chair!
And before you think that we’re being unkind to the cat, it’s not that we’re making him stay outside in the rain. The cats at our house have their own little room, where the washing machine lives. And they can dry out in there. It’s just that wet cats aren’t very sensitive to the fact that we have sofas and cushions and rugs and places in a house where you just don’t want a wet cat to lie. Or a drowned rat, for that matter.
So there you are. If it’s raining where you are this weekend, don’t forget to take your coat, or your umbrella. Otherwise you might return looking ‘like a drowned rat’.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
Do not say we didn’t warn you about the UK weather! Even in the summer months you can get soaked through in our green and verdant United Kingdom.
With all the rain we have in the UK you can expect a lot of English idioms and phrases to help people who live here describe typical everyday weather events. This English lesson will help you with listening to common English language, the spoken English used in this podcast is everyday English spoken by a native British English speaker.
Listening to this English language audio many times will help train your brain to hear and recognise the rhythm and tonality of English speakers voices. This brain training is important as it will help you automatically recognise “filler” words used in everyday spoken English. Once you automatically hear and understand “filler” words you can focus on the important contextual words that give meaning to what you are listening to.
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