rat race

noun Informal.
any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a pressured urban working life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.

Origin:
1935–40, Americanism

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World English Dictionary
rat race
 
n
a continual routine of hectic competitive activity: working in the City is a real rat race

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

rat race

Fierce competition to maintain or improve one's position in the workplace or social life. For example, You may not realize what a rat race it is to get research grants. This term presumably alludes to the rat's desperate struggle for survival. [Colloquial; first half of 1900s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
The flooding began flushing out rat holes around the lake, triggering a literal rat race for higher ground.
There might be five or six airplanes taking off around the same time and they'd rat race and play combat-type flying.
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