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rat race

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noun Informal.
  1. any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a pressured urban working life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.
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Origin of rat race

An Americanism dating back to 1935–40
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for rat-race

Historical Examples

  • But under torment of insomnia the many selves of the mind may abandon the congress of reason and start a rat-race.

    The Trial of Callista Blake

    Edgar Pangborn


British Dictionary definitions for rat-race

rat race

noun
  1. a continual routine of hectic competitive activityworking in the City is a real rat race
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for rat-race

n.

also rat race, "competitive struggle," 1934, from rat (n.) + race (n.1). Rat-run is from 1870 in a literal sense.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with rat-race

rat race

Fierce competition to maintain or improve one's position in the workplace or social life. For example, You may not realize what a rat race it is to get research grants. This term presumably alludes to the rat's desperate struggle for survival. [Colloquial; first half of 1900s]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.