Monday, August 2, 2010

Raining Cats and Dogs

This is a very strange and silly phrase that people use when they mean that it's raining very hard.  No one knows exactly how the phrase got started, but a lot of people have tried to explain it anyway.  And the most usual way to explain it is to say that back in the 1500s, houses had roofs made out of thatch, which is just a bunch of grass piled up really thick and woven together.  And the animals like cats and dogs and rats liked to burrow down in the thatch, and then when it rained, the thatch got slippery, and they all fell off the roof.  But there is no proof that things really happened this way.  Besides which, what dog or cat would settle for living on a roof if he could sleep inside by the fire on a rainy night?

Other people have said that the phrase comes from the French word catadoupe, which means a waterfall.  I guess they think that since the word starts with "cat" and refers to falling water, it is the same as "raining cats," which in my opinion it is not.

And then there's the idea that the phrase came from Norse mythology because people used to believe that cats were in charge of the rain, and dogs were in charge of the wind.  So when you put rain and wind (cats and dogs) together, you got a really big storm.

Raining cats and dogs and pitchforks!
Here's one more explanation, and it's kind of gross, but when it used to rain really hard in the old days, back in the 17th century, kittens and puppies might drown in all the rain and get washed down the street.  Or else people might have thrown their dead animals into the street with the rest of their garbage, so when the rain came, they started floating down the gutter.  There was a poet named Jonathan Swift who wrote a poem about all kinds of yucky stuff like this washing down the streets of the city in a big rain, and he was probably talking about things that people were used to seeing.  So this might be the best explanation for where the "raining cats and dogs" phrase came from.  Or maybe not.

Personally, I think the phrase could just be something crazy that somebody made up to try to get the idea across about how really, really hard it was raining.  Because there is also the English phrase "raining pitchforks."  And in French, they say that it is raining nails or raining ropes.  In Portuguese, it rains penknives; in Czech, it rains wheelbarrows; in Bosnian, it rains crowbars; and in Danish, it rains shoemakers' apprentices.  Oh, and in Afrikaans, it rains old women with clubs.

So what it seems like to me is that a lot of these phrases are trying to say that the rain is coming down so hard that when it hits you, it hurts, like a chair leg hitting you, which is what they say in Greek.  Maybe having cats and dogs hit you is not quite as painful as having axes hit you, which is what happens in Serbia, but I still wouldn't want to be standing around when all those animals were falling out of the sky!


  1. I'm sure glad we live in OUR times....not sure I'd like be part of the olden days!! My relatives in West Virginia have some funny sayings about rain; as a child & being one (then) who took things literally....I was confused a lot of the time! :) Hey..thought I'd mention to you, in case your mom DOESN'T or HASN'T - you are more than welcome to join us for dinner at the Corner Cafe tonight! I bet your mom DIDN'T even tell you she had plans for this evening did she? Jeez...just don't tell her where you heard it! Deal?
    Love, AP

  2. What?! Mom is going out to dinner, and she didn't tell me about it?! That doesn't seem fair at all! Do they really allow dogs at the Corner Cafe? If they do, let me know and I will tag along with Mom. I am so cute that I'm sure everyone will want to feed me some yummy bits of their supper!
    Love, Piper

  3. I like the Norse version--hadn't heard that. But I'd prefer cats to other things that would come through the thatch. How many dogs climb on roofs? AT

  4. Dear Aunt Alarie,
    I don't think that very many dogs climb on roofs unless they are chasing cats that climb on roofs. And anyway, I don't like the idea of falling off or through a thatch roof. The Norse version is nice because I like the idea of dogs being strong like the wind -- which is not the same as breaking wind, which some dogs at our house have been known to do, but not me!
    Your friend, Piper