Rugrat regrets

The morning name from two days ago, a bit of language play, with the repeated pattern

r … gr … t  r … gr … t

apparently invented in my sleeping head rather than remembered from previous experience. The whole thing is a N + N compound, and as such, is capable of a range of interpretations — primarily in two broad classes: with an object interpretation of rugrats, ‘regrets about / over rugrats’, on various accounts; and with a subject interpretation of rugrats, ‘regrets of / by rugrats’, also on various accounts.

Then there’s the first element of the compound, itself a N + N compound, composed of rug + rat literally ‘rat located on, inhabiting a rug”, but with rat understood metaphorically (referring to small children as rat-like creatures) and rug understood metonymically (referring to household play surfaces more generally). The result is a colorful way of referring to toddlers, with the verminous connotations of rat apparently bleached out by playfulness.

The OED3 (March 2011) entry for rug rat, with its first two cites:

n. slang (orig. U.S.) a small child, esp. one who still crawls rather than walks.

1970   Current Slang (Univ. S. Dakota) 4 iii–iv. 23   Rug rat, a small child.

1976   Daily Tel. 16 July (Colour Suppl.) 10/1   He is without children; he has rug-rats instead.

The first cite is from the U.S. and has the compound written separated (rug rat), the second from the U.K., with the compound hyphenated (rug-rat). Separated and hyphenated spellings tend to make the element rat more noticeable, and so to encourage more literal understandings. Eventually, with a solid spelling (rugrat), the element rat becomes less visible, encouraging a fully conventionalized understanding for the compound, at least in print. In the U.S. at any rate, the solid spelling seems to have become the norm, and so we get the tv show Rugrats. From Wikipedia:

Rugrats is an American animated television series created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó and Paul Germain for Nickelodeon. The show focuses on a group of toddlers, most prominently Tommy, Chuckie, twins Phil and Lil, and Angelica, and their day-to-day lives, usually involving common life experiences that become adventures in the babies’ imaginations. Adults in the series are almost always unaware of what the children are up to. The series premiered on August 11, 1991

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