I’m struggling with a phrase and need help with that, it’s from the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (Random House, 2018):
There were other races out there and other Tarahumara runners, and it wasn’t long before Fisher had regrouped and was careening from mayhem to mayhem like a frat boy on a road trip.
My main problem is with last 5 word: like a frat boy on a road trip. I know that “frat” probably refers to Fraternity, but I couldn’t figure out how can it be related to the topic in the book.
A college fraternity is a type of student society in the U.S., Canada, and the Philippines. There are many different kinds of fraternities but in general usage, the term almost always refers to so-called social fraternities (women-only fraternities are commonly known as sororities). There is no direct equivalent in British universities, although they are somewhat analogous to the studentverbindung on the Continent.
A frat boy is a disparaging term for a member of a social fraternity—very few members I know would ever describe themselves as such. It isn’t a single stereotype: it takes on whatever negative behavior or attitudes someone wants to project in the moment; there are any number of cliché frat boys. That said, the membership demographic is cavorting young males, so the image will most often include some element of rowdiness, cockiness, or drunkenness. As Cambridge puts it,
US, informal, often disapproving
a young man who belongs to a college fraternity, and who behaves in the noisy or silly way that is thought to be typical of fraternity members
A road trip, broadly, is any relatively long journey driving in a private vehicle. For example, a school sports team might take a bus on a road trip to compete against a team several hours’ drive away. But in the U.S., where distances are long and the cost to purchase and fuel an automobile is relatively cheap, it is a cultural touchstone. Disparate films like National Lampoon’s Vacation, Thelma & Louise, Almost Famous, Easy Rider, and The Muppet Movie are all organized around the conceit of a road trip, in which the main characters encounter various characters and adventures on their way to some destination.
Given that context, the image of
careening from mayhem to mayhem like a frat boy on a road trip
should be clear: Fisher is trying to advance, but encounters chaotic situation after chaotic situation, in the same way a loud, overconfident, and slightly buzzed young man might get into when stopping for the night on a road trip.
For some over-the-top imagery of frat boys on a road trip, consult the 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House (keeping in mind that much of the humor is, by modern standards, “problematic”).