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 f-ckers are trying to rat-f-ck! us,” declared Kevin Rudd …

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

“Depends whether those rat-f-cking Chinese want to f-ck us.”

So far as I can recall I have never heard rat-f-ck or rat-f-cking 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-f-cking. The OED locates the first printed use of rat-f-ck in 1920s America, and it has 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-f-ck 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-f-ck as a noun can refer variously to a “a contemptible or despicable person”,  a “bungled or disorganised operation or undertaking”, “an unimportant task or mission” or “a crowded, chaotic event, esp. one intended to garner media attention”.

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Peter Fray

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