What does the idiom "smell a rat" mean?

Although the meanings of the words in them do not make any sense when examined one by one, the word groups that are shaped according to the cultural roots of the language and that make sense as a whole are called idioms. smell a rat meaning, in what situations is it used?

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

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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