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It wuz the gerbils wot dunnit.

According to a recent report, highlighted by John Humphrys no less, on BBC Radio Four’s Today program yesterday (24th Feb) , it seems that rats were not responsible for ‘The Black Death’—Bubonic Plague—that swept through Europe and the UK for several centuries, decimating the population and causing dramatic changes in economics and indeed perhaps hastening the coming of democracy, political scandals, the tabloid press and most likely fast food, obesity and benefit tourism.


Scientists are agreed that the plague first appeared in Asia and made its way overland to Europe—so far so good for conventional history. What they—always the anonymous they—have now deduced is that the fleas that actually spread the disease first got carried out of Asia on the backs of gerbils, not as previously thought, rats. This got me thinking. Not only have perhaps rats had a bum rap over the centuries but I started wondering about the linguistic heritage of the BD.  For example, the nursery rhythm ‘a ring a ring of roses’ is actually about the BD, as is the habit of saying ‘bless you’—or God bless you’—when a person sneezes. If the truth had been known at the time—or at least soon after– what might have changed for the rats?


  • Edward G Robinson would have said ‘you dirty gerbil, you killed my brother’.
  • People would go out on a Saturday night and get gerbil-arsed.
  • A person might be described as being as cunning as a sh*t house gerbil.
  • Like a gerbil up a drainpipe.
  • A person might be said to be a gerbil-fink.
  • A member of a gang might gerbil on the others.
  • Any given situation might turn to gerbil sh*t.


So does this mean that rats will now be rehabilitated in the public consciousness? Will they now be regarded as suitable pets and might people put food out for them? Probably not—but will they ever put gerbils in mazes, that’s what I want to know.

I feel a new popular cause coming on—Rights for rats.

  • Is the way now open for rats—or somebody on their behalf– to sue for centuries of defamation and vilification?
  • Will rats get legal aid to bring a class case?
  • Will we see the church organising shelters for homeless rats?
  • What about government training schemes for rats?
  • Equal opportunities for rats.
  • An EU commissioner for rats.
  • Will Tony Blair make a grovelling apology to rats?


Remember you read it here first, folks.

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