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Politics

Jun 9, 2010

Rats from a sinking summit

Piers Kelly writes::... David Marr is probably spewing that almost all the attention on his Quarterly Essay is focused on Rudd’s flamboyant obscenities at the Copenhagen summit. What was it that our sombre and mealy mouthed PM was alleged to have said?

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Piers Kelly writes:

David Marr is probably spewing that almost all the attention on his Quarterly Essay is focused on Rudd’s flamboyant obscenities at the Copenhagen summit. What was it that our sombre and mealy mouthed PM was alleged to have said? (I’m quoting here from the extract because I don’t yet have access to the original):

“Those Chinese fuckers are trying to rat-fuck! us,” declared Kevin Rudd.

In this mood, he’d been talking about countries “rat-fucking” each other for days. Was a deal still possible, asked one of the Australians.

“Depends whether those rat-fucking Chinese want to fuck us.”

So far as I can recall I have never heard rat-fuck or rat-fucking before and I immediately assumed that K-Rudd had thought it up on the spot – a surreal obscenity from a tired and frustrated leader who’d staked his reputation on climate action and a new relationship with China.

But dictionaries have more to say on the dubious practice of rat-fucking. The OED locates the first printed use of ‘rat-fuck’ in 1920s America, and its been spotted in published US sources right up until the present decade. The F Word, a 1995 reference work on “the most controversial word in the English language”, has even more examples. My agents behind the apple-pie curtain have observed its continued use in spoken American English. So what exactly does it mean?

References indicate that rat-fuck as a verb has a whole range of applications. It can mean “to outwit”, “to rummage through with the intent to steal” and  “to harm or victimise”; but it seems that the most commonly applied meaning is “to botch”.

And rat-fuck as a noun can refer variously to a “a contemptible or despicable person”,  a “bungled or disorganized operation or undertaking”, “an unimportant task or mission” or “a crowded, chaotic event, esp. one intended to garner media attention”.

The noun form was recorded first and there are a few euphemistic examples from the 1930s that describe military stuff-ups, as in “This isn’t going to be the same kind of damned disgusting… rat-copulation such as we’ve been going through on the Border”. By the 1980s, doomed missions flown by the US airforce were rendered simply as “Romeo Foxtrot”.

My sources in the US describe a weird game played in college cafeterias in which participants are required to say “rat fuck”, each raising the intensity of their voices in turn until somebody gets too embarrassed to continue. (This meaning hasn’t made it into print yet which is probably just as well. They really ought to stop those maniacs before somebody gets hurt. Kids these days.)

But the sense of outwitting, tricking or playing a prank seems to have come from college campuses even though it is now more widespread. The F word cites a great example from David Brock’s Blinded by the right: the conscience of an ex-conservative (2002):

David Sullivan was… a master of bureaucratic intrigue and leaking to the press–“rat fucking” the enemy, in Sullivan’s words

Likewise, a rat-fucker is a “dirty trickster; a saboteur”.

So perhaps, after all, Rudd’s outburst was not the depraved interjection of a stressed leader with temporary Tourette’s syndrome. It’s quite possible that ‘rat-fucking’ and its variants is common parlance in the halls of international diplomacy where Rudd launched his career — tell me if you know.  In the PM’s mind the expression may well have summed up the doomed atmosphere of the negotiations: a bungled, chaotic and attention-grabbing operation, overflowing with bureaucratic intrigue and infested with rat-fucking saboteurs.

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27 comments

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27 thoughts on “Rats from a sinking summit

  1. ethics91

    Well according to the urban dictionary rat-fucking relates to the use of “dirty tricks” to discredit one’s opponent in politics. Hmm… sounds like it works.

    Janith @OMDS

  2. How Rudd got the Foreign Minister job: Exclusive | Asian Correspondent

    […] Our top diplomat further famously said of our most important trading partners, “Those Chinese f…ers are trying to rat-f..k us…”. […]

  3. How to swear in politics – Fully (sic)

    […] who were rarely afraid to lash their abusive tongues at any sorry fool who displeased them. Even rat-fucking Rudd appears already to have merged into that grainy gallery of foul-mouthed former Labour […]

  4. Syd Walker

    “Those Chinese fuckers are trying to rat-fuck! us”

    This is mostly likely code, used only within the PM’s office, for observing KRudd’s once-promising rhetoric on climate change action Shanghaied by Penny Wong, her resource industry friends and would-be purvevoys of the next generation of speculative junk?

  5. John Cowan

    The F-Word definitions imply that the etymology of rat is the U.S. Army abbreviation for ration(s), as in rat bar for ration bar. The pun is, of course, intentional, whether you suppose that rat bars are made from rat or are fit only for rats to gnaw.

  6. What’s a rat-fucker? : lifestylebuzz.com.au

    […] See more here: What’s a rat-fucker? […]

  7. Socratease

    Hey Venise, you’re sure giving those warning and query symbols a flogging.

  8. Venise Alstergren

    I’ll tell you what’s fucking insane..”The government is watching what you read on the internet” is the headline. ❗

    Is there anything more our governments’ (of any or all parties) can do to render Oz into being a concentration camp? ❓

    Wake up Oz ❗

    Day after day there is a new piece of government intervention-in the name of protecting our children, eighty-year-old ladies, senior citizens with heart problems, virginal ❓ young ladies, the mentally challenged, the poor, the dogs, the cats, our goldfish, senior citizens with circulatory problems, people with Alzheimer’s Syndrome, teenagers with acne, maiden aunts, people in funeral parlours, the toothless, the one-eyed, the dentist, the jeans shop, and pregnant mothers.

    And anyone, and everyone else this side of the Rio Grande del Norte or the River Murray.

    It is quite permissible to screw the environment, to create turgid streams out of great rivers. to turn this country into a bigger desert than it already is.

    But we are gonna be flung into our own concentration camp for thinking of any sex. ❗

    Christ, what a bloody sick country we are becoming. We might as well all go and live in North Korea.

  9. macadamia man

    I recall dimly (gimme a break, here, it was the Seventies) that an academic textural analysis of Nixon’s own Oval Office tapes (those recorded in the lead up and aftermath to the Watergate break-ins) revealed that the word/phrase (along with plenty of others less or equally colourful) was common parlance among White House staff to describe both colleagues and “enemies”, and that Nixon was particularly fond of using it to describe the gentlefolk (sic) of the Press.

    Tricky’s not exactly a good role model for much in politics, but at least there’s some “tradition” there for the paranoid or persecuted in politics.

  10. barrym

    Perhaps the true meaning relates to a rat copulating with another rat caught in a trap and unable to resist. That describes our prime minister’s position at Copenhagen along with his reversal on the ETS.

  11. Robert Smith

    Ratf–k was a very popular obscenity with political staffers in Queensland and other states in the early 1990s. I once heard a Minister use it at a community meeting, too. It seemed to a synonym for gross b-stardry. And like all good obscenities it worked as well as a verb as a noun

  12. Socratease

    I note that Crikey has become coy in the last hour or so and changed its own story link to read “rat-f***ker”.

  13. David Sanderson

    Rat-fuck is a reference to the well-known rodent preference for dirty sex. They are not interested in ‘making love’ and prefer to do it in the road, on the stairs, or any fucking place at all.

    It is this preference for dirty sex that is responsible for the widespread dislike of this otherwise blameless animal.

  14. Socratease

    @44fx290: Yes, and I think the word rat is underused today. There should be more “You dirty rat” type slurs, and “ratshit” should come back into vogue, too.

  15. blue_green

    I think the relevant definition is the US military one.

    Rat F_ck
    (US) Term used for the action of going through a MRE box before chow time selecting the best meal for oneself. Also used to describe taking prefered items out of MRE’s. Could also be used to describe a random mess.

    It basically means going through something and choosing the best bits for youself (like taking the chockies out of someones lunch box and leaving them just a cheese sandwich).

    That would apply to the chinese at Copenhagen. They wanted certain things in the agreement but none of the substantial and difficult things to remain. ie they were selective to their benefit.

    So Kevin was ratf-cked by the chinese at copenhagen. It was a technically correct use of the word.

  16. sneedy

    seems to me that hunter s thompson was a master of ‘rat-fuck’ usage, but the only quote i could find on short notice suggests that he was also a master of the act itself. mark spitzer quotes a letter to a fan of ‘hell’s angels’, in which hst states that ‘the whole thing was a wonderful rat-fuck’. he signs the letter h. “ratfucker” thompson. (http://bit.ly/btULLV)

    i’ve always heard it (in my home country of america) used in the sense of weasley sabotaging dirty tricks, backstabbing, etc.

  17. Sexual Lobster

    That game sounds hilarious! I’m going to see if I can get it started at work.

  18. 44fx290

    fuck me, but I wish you would’t say fuck all the time. It’s fucking low brow, now get your fucking house in order or you’ll be fucked.

    Never hear of rat fuck before, well I never…..

  19. philtee

    Suggest you read All The President’s Men. Long history of the term describing often shadowy nexus between US Fed government and assorted spy agencies, especially when morals became a little loose. This definition from the web –
    “Ratfucking is an American slang term for political sabotage or dirty tricks. It was first brought to public attention during the Watergate scandal investigation that during the 1972 presidential campaign the Nixon campaign committee maintained a “dirty tricks” unit focused on discrediting Nixon’s strongest challengers.”

  20. Tweets that mention Rats from a sinking summit – Fully (sic) -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Richard Littauer and Fully (sic), Fully (sic). Fully (sic) said: Those rat-fucking Chinese http://sn.im/x8zy6 #rudd #ratfuck […]

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