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Ratfucking is an American slang term for political sabotage or dirty tricks. It was brought to public attention by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their non-fiction book All the President's Men (1974). Woodward and Bernstein's exposé All the President's Men reports that many staffers who had attended the University of Southern California ("USC")—such as Donald Segretti, White House aide Tim Elbourne, Ronald Louis Ziegler, H. R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin—had participated in the highly competitive student elections there. UPI reporter Karlyn Barker sent Woodward and Bernstein a memo, "Notes On the USC Crowd", that outlined the connection. Fraternities, sororities, and underground fraternal coordinating organizations—such as Theta Nu Epsilon and their splintered rival "Trojans for Representative Government"—engaged in creative tricks and underhanded tactics to win student elections.[1][2] Officially, control over minor funding and decision-making on campus life was at stake, but the positions also gave bragging rights and prestige. The tactics were either promoted by or garnered the interest of major political figures on the USC board of trustees, such as Dean Rusk and John A. McCone.[3][4] It was here that the term ratfucking had its origin.

The term received media attention in Australia after it was reported that the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used the term in a tirade about China at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.[5][6]

During the 2016 Republican Party presidential primaries, candidate Ted Cruz said "Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him", a euphemised reference to the term.[7][8]

In August of 2017, journalist Marcy Wheeler garnered the disapprobation of the Federal Communications Commission when she used the term in a radio broadcast. Wheeler maintained that the word has become a term of art in political science and is thus not an obscenity; FCC officials disagreed.[9]

Other usages[edit]

An early use of the term (as "rat-fuck") appears in Edmund Wilson's The Twenties, in an entry dated February, 1922.[10]

A more benign use of the term "ratfucking" was commonplace in Southern California (and possibly other) college slang from the late 1950s to at least the early 1960s, meaning a prank. Around that time, Tony Auth was the cartoonist for the UCLA Daily Bruin. One of his cartoons showed a large, inebriated rat suggesting to another rat, "Let's go PF-ing tonight!", a play on ratfucking or "RF-ing". The lead story in the January 6, 1961, California Tech, Caltech's student newspaper, was headlined, "Tech Scores First Televised RF". The article chronicled the Great Rose Bowl Hoax, which had just taken place. A political context was irrelevant to such usage. At the end of the article, an Editor's Note both explained and bowdlerized: "RF (for Royal Flush) is a contemporary college colloquialism for a clever prank."[citation needed]

The term was used by the character Jimmy McGill in season 2, episode 10, of the television show Better Call Saul, after he pulled a dirty trick on his brother Chuck.[11]

On May 23rd 2019 Svetlana Lokhova filed a claim in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Stefan Halper, claiming that "Stefan Halper is a ratfucker and a spy" with a footnote that "Ratfucking" is a well-known political term.[12]

The term ratfucking (rat in this case is shorthand for ration) is an slang term used by U.S. military personnel to mean the targeted pillaging of MREs (Meals, Ready-To-Eat), which the U.S. military calls field stripping. It refers to the process of opening a case of MREs, which are packed 12 in a box, opening up individual MRE packages, removing the desired items (generally M&M's and other sweets), and leaving the unenticing remainder.[13]


  1. ^ "Excepts from American Twilight". GreenInstitute.net. July 2005. Archived from the original on 2007-07-07. Retrieved 2007-07-13.
  2. ^ Taibbi, Matt (March 24, 2006). "Meet Mr. Republican: Jack Abramoff". Rolling Stone.
  3. ^ "University of Southern California Trustees (1979)". Namebase.org. Archived from the original on 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  4. ^ "From CIA to USC: Biography of a Trustee". Namebase.org. Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  5. ^ Marr, David (June 7, 2010), Power Trip: The political journey of Kevin Rudd (extract), Quarterly Essay, retrieved 2018-07-22
  6. ^ "Rats from a sinking summit - Fully (sic)". Fully (sic). 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  7. ^ Rhodan, Maya; Elliot, Phillip (March 25, 2016). "Ted Cruz Blames Donald Trump for 'Garbage' National Enquirer Story". TIME. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  8. ^ Amy Davidson Sorkin (March 29, 2016), "Donald and Melania and Heidi and Ted", The New Yorker, retrieved 2018-07-22
  9. ^ Wheeler, Marcy [@emptywheel] (August 2, 2017). "I honestly thought "ratfuck" was considered a technical political term, not a modification of "fuck."" (Tweet). Retrieved October 20, 2019 – via Twitter.
  10. ^ Wilson, Edmund & Edel, Leon (Editor) (1975). The Twenties. Farrar Straus and Giroux. p. 116.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  11. ^ Matt Zoller Seitz (June 20, 2017). "Michael McKean and Peter Gould on Chuck's Big Episode of Better Call Saul". Vulture.com. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  12. ^ Josh Gerstein (May 24, 2019). "Intelligence scholar sues Cambridge academic, U.S. news outlets over reports on Flynn links". Politico.com. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
  13. ^ Wright, Evan (2005). Generation Kill. Penguin. p. 61. ISBN 9781101207611. Retrieved 2016-08-03. The process of tearing through an MRE and picking out the goodies is called "ratfucking". Colbert's team maintains a ratfuck bag in their Humvee for all the discarded MRE entrées, saving them for a rainy day.