What does the idiom "smell a rat" mean?

The phrase smell a rat is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of smell a rat.

Meaning of "smell a rat"


The phrase “smell a rat” is an idiom used to describe the suspicion of something being amiss. To “smell a rat” is to have a suspicion that someone or something is not what they seem to be. It implies the idea that something is wrong and should be investigated further.


The phrase “smell a rat” has been in use since the late 17th century, when it first appeared in a document belonging to Yorkshire, England. It is believed to be derived from the earlier phrase “smell a mouse”, which was used to refer to the notion of something being out of place or suspicious. This phrase is thought to have originated from the phrase “hear a mouse”, which is an ancient superstition about being able to hear ill omens in the form of mice. This superstition is said to have been around since at least the 15th century.


The phrase “smell a rat” is often used to describe situations in which a person senses something sketchy is going on. It can be used to describe times when a person is suspicious of someone’s actions or motives, or when there are signs that something is off or not quite right. The phrase “smell a rat” is also used when someone is skeptical about a particular situation or claim.

Example Sentences

  • I smelled a rat when my colleague offered to do my work for free.
  • I knew something was wrong when she started to act strange. I think I smell a rat.
  • I think something shady is going on here. I can smell a rat.

The meanings of the words in the "smell a rat" idiom

Idioms have a common language

"The early bird catches the worm" is an English idiom that means that those who wake up early and start their day early are more likely to succeed. A similar idiom in Spanish is "El que madruga, Dios le ayuda," which translates to "God helps those who rise early." This idiom emphasizes the importance of starting the day early in order to achieve success.


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