They say, "Du bist eine Leseratte!" is that pejorative? Compare "Du bist eine dumme Kuh!"

  • What is the connotation and is it positive or negative? Animals cannot read but maybe there is an animal called like that for some other properties, or do they mean "reading rat"?

3 Answers 3


As stated in the article from Hamburger Abendblatt quoted below the original meaning in the 19th century came from rats being greedy.

It meant a person who read everything excessively without caring what it was.

Later all words containing rat in german language changed their meaning. They became a humorous hint to someone being passionate about something. Another example would be the word Wasserratte describing someone who really loves to be in the water / get wet, mostly used for kids.

As stated in the other replies: Leseratte has a rather positive connotation and I never heard of it being used negatively, if not in the context stated by hiergiltdiestfu in his answer.

Diese scherzhafte Bezeichnung für einen gierigen Vielleser ist in der regionalen Variante "Leseratz" seit Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts bekannt. Die exakte Herkunft aber ist unklar, im Unterschied zum sinnverwandten "Bücherwurm", der wohl aus einem Theaterstück Lessings von 1749 stammt. Der Ausdruck Leseratte hatte noch bis ins 20. Jahrhundert durchaus kritische Untertöne, denn damit wurde das wahl- und maßlose "Verschlingen" jedweden Lesestoffs unterstellt. Während aber die bloße "Ratte" als Bezeichnung für Menschen nach wie vor verächtlich ist, haben Wortverbindungen damit einen Bedeutungswandel erfahren. So wurde auch aus der "Wasserratte", die in Shakespeares "Kaufmann von Venedig" noch einen Piraten meinte, heute jemand, der nur leidenschaftlich ins Nass vernarrt ist.
Hamburger Abendblatt: Woher stammt der Begriff Leseratte?

  • This is the best sourced answer so far, thanks! Jun 28, 2017 at 8:35
  • 2
    Very few -ratte words are perjorative - "Kanalratte", though, is NOT a word for a civil engineering geek but potentially a serious insult. So is "Ratte" without any prefix :) Jun 28, 2017 at 9:31
  • Did not know the German language uses the word Wasserratte, the Dutch do too! Waterrat
    – EpicKip
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:35

Leseratte as Bücherwurm simply represent someone (typically a child), who reads much; in the latter case preferably books.

I would consider it as at least positively connotated if not strongly so. I guess, the animal is only used to make it easier accessible to the children It is somewhat suprising to find Ratte in this positive context.

  • It would be interesting to dig into the zoological connotation, nevertheless; for example the Buchwurm exists more or less in reality and eats paper in the books. But how did they come to rats?
    – J. Doe
    Jun 28, 2017 at 7:41
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    Rats are associated with greet. Knowing that, it seem to fit. Looking at Trübners Deutsches Wörterbuch (Berlin, Vierter Band, 1943, S. 447): "Leseratte" was negative and "Bücherwurm" positive. Similar words are "Wasserratte" or "Landratte" while the first one also isn't considered as negative anymore. Jun 28, 2017 at 8:22
  • 1
    @DirkReichel Did you mean "greed"?
    – Walter
    Jul 1, 2017 at 8:43
  • @Walter yes, you are right... typo :P Jul 1, 2017 at 9:14

I have never experienced a pejorative use of Leseratte. It's mostly used affectionately, and sometimes to point out a specific kind of nerdiness. It's nothing like the Kuh, no.

That said, I do imagine there might be certain classes of people that are able to use all kinds of words that are usually used to denote "smart" or nerdy behaviour as cuss words. The prototypical jock comes to mind. But then, he or she would probably combine it with dumm, dämlich or fett, or some other modifying adjective like that, to get the point across.

So in everyday use, the word would be understood to be neutral or positively connotated.

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