One of my translation projects this week was about traffic and measures to prevent motorists from using back roads to avoid busy main roads. In English, that’s called ‘rat running’. Did you know that the average rat can run at speeds of up to 18 km/h? That’s much faster than humans, whose top speed is around 12 km/h. The expression ‘rat race’ is used to describe life for people with unpleasant jobs which oblige them to work really hard to earn money and compete.

My son had a rat for a pet when he was about 8 or 9 years old. He called him Boris. It was a lovely friendly creature.

The rat is much maligned but recent scientific studies have proved that in fact, a rat will not desert another rat in distress. In 2011, a study at the University of Chicago, for example, showed that if a rat is trapped in a narrow plastic tube, its unrestrained cagemate will work on the latch until it works out how to spring the trap.

For as long as four hundred years, there have been sayings involving the ability of rats to know when to flee a structure before it falls. Although the expression ‘like rats deserting a sinking ship’ is still used today, the original version was ‘like rats that quit the house before it falls’ (1600).