When someone says the phrase “I smell a rat” it means they feel something is not quite right. They may feel suspicious of a situation or of another person.
The Origin Of ‘I Smell a Rat’
There are a few phrases that people use to describe a suspicious feeling they have. For example, “something smells fishy,” “something smells off” or “I smell a rat.” All three of these expressions use the word “smell” and imply that something is not quite right. Where did these sayings come from? Well, let’s go over the last one to see how it possibly originated:
This phrase might have to do with dead rats and the smell they give off afterwards. Indeed, rats are cute little creatures, but they can become a problem if they crawl underneath your house or they find a way into the walls of your home. This is especially problematic if the rat dies while in one of these locations, because then the stench of their rotting corpse enters the home.
Such a smell is unpleasant for the homeowners because not only is it off-putting, but it can be hard for them to pinpoint where the smell is coming from or what is causing it. They would just know that something smells off. Later, they might figure out that the source of the foul smell was a dead rodent. Yes, they were “smelling a rat” the whole time! Thus, perhaps this stinky situation is where the idiom “I smell a rat” originated.
Anyways, the earliest I could find this saying in print is from the newspaper The World Fashionable Advertiser, 1787:
“Sly strokes at Ministers—I smell a rat.”
- I was going to buy a used car today, but the person selling it did not seem trustworthy. I smelled a rat, so I left.
- Should I trust this email? It says I won an all paid trip to Hawaii, but something smells fishy here.