also rat race, 1934 in reference to aviation training, from rat (n.) + race (n.1).
A rat race is ... a simple game of "follow the leader" in fighter planes. The leader does everything he can think of — Immelmanns, loops, snap rolls, and turns, always turns, tighter and tighter. [Popular Science, May 1941]
In the 1930s actual rat races of some sort are frequently mentioned among popular carnival and gambling attractions. Meaning "fiercely competitive struggle," especially to maintain one's position in work or life is by 1939. Rat-run is from 1870 in the sense of "maze-like passages by which rats move about their territory," but originally and usually in a derogatory transferred sense.
[Matthew] Milton was not, at the period we write of [c. 1811], at all in the ring ; for in the following March he was steward of a rat-race, held at a public-house in Shepherd's-market, where four of these "varmin," decorated with different coloured ribands, were started for a sweepstakes, round the clubroom, before a host of sportsmen. ["Sporting Incidents at Home and Abroad," The Sporting Review, May 1848]
also *dreu-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "be firm, solid, steadfast," with specialized senses "wood," "tree" and derivatives referring to objects made of wood.
It forms all or part of: betroth; Dante; dendrite; dendro-; dendrochronology; dour; Druid; drupe; dryad; dura mater; durable; durance; duration; duress; during; durum; endure; hamadryad; indurate; obdurate; perdurable; philodendron; rhododendron; shelter; tar (n.1) "viscous liquid;" tray; tree; trig (adj.) "smart, trim;" trim; troth; trough; trow; truce; true; trust; truth; tryst.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit dru "tree, wood," daru "wood, log, timber;" Greek drys "oak," drymos "copse, thicket," doru "beam, shaft of a spear;" Old Church Slavonic drievo "tree, wood," Serbian drvo "tree," drva "wood," Russian drevo "tree, wood," Czech drva, Polish drwa "wood;" Lithuanian drūtas "firm," derva "pine, wood;" Welsh drud, Old Irish dron "strong," Welsh derw "true," Old Irish derb "sure," Old Irish daur, Welsh derwen "oak;" Albanian drusk "oak;" Old English treo, treow "tree," triewe "faithful, trustworthy, honest."
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "bright; brown" (the sense connection might involve polished wooden objects).
It forms all or part of: Barnard; bear (n.) "large carnivorous or omnivorous mammal of the family Ursidae;" beaver (n.1) "large amphibious quadruped rodent of the genus Castor;" berserk; brown; Bruin; brunet; brunette; burnish.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Old English brun "dark, dusky;" Lithuanian bėras "brown;" Greek phrynos "toad," literally "the brown animal."
*rēd-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to scrape, scratch, gnaw."
It forms (possibly) all or part of: abrade; abrasion; corrode; corrosion; erase; erode; erosion; radula; rascal; rase; rash (n.) "eruption of small red spots on skin;" raster; rat; raze; razor; rodent; rostrum; tabula rasa.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit radati "scrapes, gnaws," radanah "tooth;" Latin rodere "to gnaw, eat away," radere "to scrape;" Welsh rhathu "scrape, polish."
*skrībh-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to cut, separate, sift;" an extended form of root *sker- (1) "to cut."
It forms all or part of: ascribe; ascription; circumscribe; conscript; conscription; describe; description; festschrift; inscribe; inscription; manuscript; postscript; prescribe; prescription; proscribe; sans-serif; scribble; scribe; script; scriptorium; scripture; scrivener; serif; shrift; shrive; subscribe; superscribe; superscript; transcribe; scarification; scarify.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Greek skariphasthai "to scratch an outline, sketch;" Latin scribere "to write" (to carve marks in wood, stone, clay, etc.); Lettish skripat "scratch, write;" Old Norse hrifa "scratch."
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to cut, split," extension of root *sek- "to cut."
It forms all or part of: abscissa; conscience; conscious; ecu; escudo; escutcheon; esquire; nescience; nescient; nice; omniscience; omniscient; plebiscite; prescience; prescient; rescind; rescission; science; scienter; scilicet; sciolist; scission; schism; schist; schizo-; schizophrenia; scudo; sheath; sheathe; sheave (n.) "grooved wheel to receive a cord, pulley;" shed (v.) "cast off;" shin (n.) "fore part of the lower leg;" shingle (n.1) "thin piece of wood;" shit (v.); shive; shiver (n.1) "small piece, splinter, fragment, chip;" shoddy; shyster; skene; ski; skive (v.1) "split or cut into strips, pare off, grind away;" squire.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit chindhi, chinatti "to break, split up;" Avestan a-sista- "unsplit, unharmed," Greek skhizein "to split, cleave, part, separate;" Latin scindere "to cut, rend, tear asunder, split;" Armenian c'tim "to tear, scratch;" Lithuanian skiesti "to separate, divide;" Old Church Slavonic cediti "to strain;" Old English scitan, Old Norse skita "to defecate;" Old English sceað, Old High German sceida "sheath;" Old Irish sceid "to vomit, spit;" Welsh chwydu "to break open."
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to collect, gather," with derivatives meaning "to speak" on the notion of "to gather words, to pick out words."
It forms all or part of: alexia; analects; analogous; analogue; analogy; anthology; apologetic; apologue; apology; catalogue; coil; colleague; collect; college; collegial; Decalogue; delegate; dialect; dialogue; diligence; doxology; dyslexia; eclectic; eclogue; elect; election; epilogue; hapax legomenon; homologous; horology; ideologue; idiolect; intelligence; lectern; lectio difficilior; lection; lector; lecture; leech (n.2) "physician;" legacy; legal; legate; legend; legible; legion; legislator; legitimate; lesson; lexicon; ligneous; ligni-; logarithm; logic; logistic; logo-; logogriph; logopoeia; Logos; -logue; -logy; loyal; monologue; neglect; neologism; philology; privilege; prolegomenon; prologue; relegate; sacrilege; select; syllogism; tautology; trilogy.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Greek legein "to say, tell, speak, declare; to count," originally, in Homer, "to pick out, select, collect, enumerate;" lexis "speech, diction;" logos "word, speech, thought, account;" Latin legere "to gather, choose, pluck; read," lignum "wood, firewood," literally "that which is gathered," legare "to depute, commission, charge," lex "law" (perhaps "collection of rules"); Albanian mb-ledh "to collect, harvest;" Gothic lisan "to collect, harvest," Lithuanian lesti "to pick, eat picking;" Hittite less-zi "to pick, gather."