raining cats and dogs
raining cats and dogs
Meaning | Synonyms
- too much heavy rain
- torrential rain
- very heavily raining
- raining tremendously
- It’s raining cats and dogs I am worried about how my kids will reach home.
- It rains cats and dogs when the Monsoon comes in India.
- How will you go to play Cricket today? It’s raining cats and dogs.
- When we were returning from the picnic, it was raining cats and dogs.
- I think it’s not safe to drive the car now – it’s raining cats and dogs.
“Raining cats and dogs” is a peculiar expression from the 17th century with uncertain origins. While we can’t be sure who coined the phrase first or what it originally meant, it’s probably not because the beloved pets fell from the sky.
As odd as it is, the phrase is prominent in almost every major dialect of English—from the roots of England to the United States and Canada, to even the multilingual Indian English and the blended Singlish from Singapore.
The phrase isn’t literal, and there is no recorded incident of cats and dogs dropping from the clouds like furry rain clumps. Similar phenomena with smaller creatures such as frogs, fish, and spiders have been recorded as they were sucked from lakes and ponds by waterspouts, but cats and dogs are too big to “rain.”
They may be thrown or fall from tornadoes in an unlucky twister, but the same goes for humans. That would be closer to hail than rain.
A few older explanations for the phrase exist, such as the thatched roof theory. Thatch is a type of padding or cover made woven and bound straw, reeds, palm, or similar plant materials. Long ago when most homes had thatched roofs–, cats and dogs would hide inside the thatch during storms. During heavy rain, the animals would be washed out of the thatch, and the falling could be considered “raining” as a joke that became a popular phrase.
Other origins include a Greek aphorism meaning “an unlikely occurrence”, and the French word catadupe, which is an old French word forcataract or waterfall.
Another idea from comes from old British towns that lacked proper construction. Because of poor town design and flood risks, cats and dogs would drown whenever there was a major storm. People would see the dead bodies of the animals floating by as if they had dropped from the sky like a proverbial rain of frogs.
And one more interesting reference comes from Norse mythology. Cats and dogs were taken to sea and on Viking raids because of myths, as pets, and as beasts of burden, but cats specifically were thought to have influence over storms. There are multiple versions of the myths and superstitions from the Viking era and into the medieval times. In some explanation, cats had great influence over storms or weather in general while dogs were a signal in wind. In a similar explanation, cats were symbols of torrential rains and the dog attendants of the Storm God Odin were gusts of wind. In yet another Norse Pantheon-related description, witches who transformed into cats rode upon the storm to follow Odin and his dog. These dogs, in this case, could refer to Geri and Freki in the Poetic Edda, but the theories are as wild and loose as the storms they describe.
Some of these tales are older than the expression, and even the discussion of where the phrase came from is becoming ancient history. The modern version of “raining cats and dogs” first appeared in Jonathan Swift’s A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation, 1978.
“I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.”
This wasn’t the first time Jonathan Swift used the particular words for precipitating pets. In 1710—30 years before Ingenious Conversation—he wrote a poem named A Description of a City Shower with the following ending lines:
“Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud, Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.”
In 1653, a similar, older phrase was written in a work called The City Witt by English playwright Richard Brome:
“It shall rain dogs and polecats.”
In this phrase, polecats are mentioned instead of cats. Polecats are relative to the weasel and were common critters in Great Britain during Richard Brome’s time.
The sources, similarities, and cultural influences are hard to separate. While there is no definite victor in the debate over who coined “raining cats and dogs”, at least it’s not raining elephants.