If you’ve heard the expression, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” you may wonder what it means. Rest assured; it has nothing to do with real cats and dogs falling out of the sky! It’s an idiomatic expression used to describe situations when the heavens have opened and rain pours down. Keep reading to learn about the history and use of this odd phrase.
Where Did the Phrase Come From?
No one knows! Some suggest it could be linked to Norse mythology, in which the god of storms, Odin, had a special relationship with dogs and wolves. Witches are also associated with storms and cats. The two concepts may have somehow combined to describe the weather when it’s stormy.
There’s a suggestion it could be related to the dead animals in the streets after heavy rainstorms in 18th-century London, as Jonathan Swift describes in his 1710 poem “City Shower.” Others argue it’s linked to an ancient Greek word for Nile cataracts, κατάδουποι or catadupoi, which was adopted into Latin as catadupa, which in turn became the old English word catadupe or waterfall. This could be interpreted as meaning, “It’s raining waterfalls.”
There’s also a theory that the idiom could come from the Greek phrase κατα δόξα or cata doxa, interpreted as meaning “beyond belief” in the rain is so heavy it’s beyond belief.
Does Anyone Know When the Phrase Was First Used?
The first known use of a similar phrase occurred in 1651 when British poet Henry Vaughn included it in his Olor Iscanus poetry collection. The phrase described a sturdy roof that could withstand heavy storms.
A similar phrase, “It shall rain dogs and polecats,” appeared in Richard Brome’s 1652 comedy City Witt. Polecats are small mammals that resemble ferrets and weasels. But the first use of the idiom as we know it today occurred in 1738 when a character in Johnathan Swift’s satire “A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” worried that it would “rain cats and dogs.”
Do People Still Use the Phrase?
The phrase is still commonly used in the United States to describe heavy rainstorms, but the Cambridge English Learner’s Dictionary tags it as old-fashioned. “It’s pouring outside” is a common alternative.
The phrase “It’s raining cats and dogs” describes a serious downpour, often with lots of wind. Its origins are largely unknown, but there are suggestions that it’s related to Norse mythology and superstitions regarding witches. Others argue it’s linked to the ancient Greek phrase, kata doxa, which they translate to mean beyond belief. Similar expressions began to be used in England in the middle of the 17th century. However, the idiom as we know it today first appeared as a complete phrase in a 1738 Jonathan Swift poem.
Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock