Friday, 25 July 2008

Raining Cats and Dogs, Origin and meaning


What does Raining Cats and Dogs mean, and when or where did this saying originate.
As with most the phrases and sayings, there is consensus as to the meaning, but the origin is oftentimes debatable.
Raining Cats and Dogs implies very heavy unexpected rain.
I found a number of possible origins for this saying. Articles available are often confusing, with the similar references to Greek or Latin and Dutch or Norse origins for the same meaning.
So, let us take a look at variations of the most popular version.
The meaning most often quoted refers to medieval times when animals and other creepy crawlies spent time in the thatched roof of the home or barn. With heavy rain the animals would either be washed out, or jump from, the roof to escape the rain. This created the impression that it was raining Cats and Dogs. One can imagine a cat sleeping on a rafter, but a dog? Not so sure about that. Maybe if one had insight to the construction of these houses one could have a better insight.
Another interpretation is that prior to storm water and sewage systems, all waste and rainwater was disposed of in surface channels. After heavy rain, animals such as dogs and cats would be drowned and carried away by the storm waters. Alternatively, dead cats and dogs were thrown into gutters and would wash away during a storm.
This could create the impression that it was raining cats and dogs.
Another version is derived from Norse mythology. A number of articles refer to Odin as the God of Storms, surrounded by dogs, representing wind. This with the belief that cats symbolized heavy rain led to the cat and dog theory. I went digging around Norse mythology and could find no reference to Odin and storms. Thor, to my limited knowledge was the God of Storms.
Then there is the Latin version, derived from cata doxas , which I am led to believe means unexpected or unusual. So raining cata doxas means raining harder than usual. This morphed to be cats and dogs. Again I could not confirm this on any of the Latin sites.
Jonathan Swift referred to “raining cats and dogs” in 1738. This appears to be the oldest written reference.
Image from Wikipedia

3 comments:

WEOUT said...

Reminds me of a joke I read in a child's magazine, back in my prepubescent days:

On man says to another, "Wow! It's raining cats and dogs out there!"

Other man says, "You're telling me! I just stepped in a poodle." Even funnier with the German word for poodle: "pudle."

But, not being familiar with the German language, I tried to see if there is a correlation between the German word pudel and ANYTHING related to water, since poodles are, by nature, water-fowl retrievers, and originally used for hunting in the marshes. But I could find nothing. Would be very interesting if some German-speaking word lover out there could shed some light...

Melinda said...

You know that when I take my generic viagra my girlfriend feels a lot of dogs and cats are falling down the sky because the strong I get with those pills is amazing.

gonanago said...

Found you when checking on "raining cats,and dogs" and I wondered if you have ever heard "mildew's picnic."

My mother always used this when things went terribly wrong. "Oh, it's mildew's picnic!" This was in England, and since I use it in the States, I know I've passed it on since colleagues at work soon picked it up.

mollie in Jacksonville, Oregon
(presently in Mexico)