Raining Cats and Dogs ?

Raining cats, dogs, and pitchforks--what a storm!

Raining cats, dogs, and pitchforks–what a storm!

“Back in the old days, when it rained people would put their cats and dogs up in the rafters so they would not get wet. [Variation: animals would climb up themselves to avoid the weather.] But the roofs often leaked, and the beams would get slippery so the animals fell, and it really was ‘raining cats and dogs’!”
There’s no myth here, just a question about the origins of this common saying. The best I can do  is to report that a word search in JSTOR made me think the origin of the phrase may be Irish, as those are the earliest written usages I found. My opinion: this is a nonsensical phrase, like “raining pitchforks,” used to indicate severe rainfall and is not based on anything concrete. 

4 Responses to Raining Cats and Dogs ?

  1. Patricia Reber says:

    Here are a few possibilities that show even by the 1850s and later people were puzzled by the phrase.

    A Cornwall term for willows “bursting catkins” was ‘cats and dogs’ which “Increase in size rapidly after a few warm April showers.”

    The book Slang and its Analogues, 1891 gave three possibilities. 1) The creation of satirist (and author of Gulliver’s Travels) Jonathan Swift in his humorous Polite Conversation, 1738: “I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain Cats and Dogs” based on his 1710 description of a city shower. 2) The Greek cata doxas for a downpour out of the ordinary. or 3) The French catadoupe for a waterfall.

  2. Gary Bulthouse says:

    Raining Pitchforks is somewhat obvious… Lightning the spear of a Zeus .archaic .. in the way that a farmer might throw his pitchfork down in disgust..might be aimed at mice..

  3. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/raining-cats-and-dogs.html

    A great, thoroughly researched site for phrase origins. Watch out, though—you’ll get sucked in for hours 🙂

    “The much more probable source of ‘raining cats and dogs’ is the prosaic fact that, in the filthy streets of 17th/18th century England, heavy rain would occasionally carry along dead animals and other debris. The animals didn’t fall from the sky, but the sight of dead cats and dogs floating by in storms could well have caused the coining of this colourful phrase.” Goes on to say Swift’s use (as mentioned by the commenter above) is in reference to such bad sanitation.

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