The umbrellas are up today as people shuffle through the rain and wind. It got me thinking about the expression ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’. There are various explanations for this popular expression which has been around in its current form since the seventeenth century. So, here are a few for you to choose from, along with some cat and dog rain related illustrations.
So, does the saying derive from a straight forward, real life event where a storm literally swept up small animals and let them fall with rain. This has happened to some degree with fish and very small creatures such as tiny frogs – but not cats and dogs.
Does the term come from the natural antipathy between these two – the rain storm was as fierce as a fight between a cat and dog? No – not really.
One supposed origin is that the phrase derives from mythology. Dogs and wolves were attendants to Odin, the god of storms, and sailors associated them with rain. Witches, who often took the form of their familiars – cats, are supposed to have ridden the wind. Nice try, but there is no evidence to support this theory.
Pets in the Roof?
One wit flooded the internet with the theory that cuddly pets sought shelter from rain in ye olde worldie thatch – snuggling down in the ‘straw’ of the roof but sometimes, when the rain was exceptionally fierce, slipping off. Yes – as if!
Another suggestion is that ‘raining cats and dogs’ comes from a version of the French word ‘catadoupe’, meaning waterfall. There’s no sense to this beyond the cat bit – and water. Move on.
And the best guess is…
The much more probable source of ‘raining cats and dogs’ is the prosaic fact that, in the filthy streets of seventeenth century England, heavy rain would wash dead animals and other debris along the streets. The animals didn’t fall from the sky, but the sight of dead cats and dogs floating by in storms could well have been the source of this saying. Jonathan Swift described such an event so we are pretty sure this is the right attribution.
Whatever the truth, it has survived in the popular imagination up to now – however, it is probably on the way out – so enjoy we should it while we can on a day like today.