Sunday, Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day! What could be a more appropriate day to release my new book, “When Pigs Fly: The Humorous History of Animal Metaphors” on Amazon?
A few days ago one of my readers brought to my attention one of the most beloved old sayings found in the new book, “Raining cats and dogs.”
There are a number of theories as to the origin of this phrase. The first modern recorded use of a similar phrase was in the 1651 collection of poems, “Olar Iscanus” by British poet Henry Vaughn, who said that “dogs and cats rained in shower.” Only a year later English playwright Richard Brome, in his comedy “City Wit,” wrote. “It shall rain dogs and polecats (here meaning weasels).”
Jonathan Swift, in 1710, in his poem, “City Shower,” described floods that occurred after heavy rains which left dead animals in the street, which may have led the locals to describe the weather as “raining cats and dogs.” Then in 1738, he published his “Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation,” a satire on upper-class talk. One of the characters fears that it will “rain cats and dogs.”
The false theory developed that the saying was coined in London because cats and dogs would cuddle into thatched roofs and be washed during especially hard rains. This is not how this started.
According to historians, this phrase was around back in the Dark Ages (5th to 10th centuries AD).
Superstitious sailors believed that cats had a lot to do with producing storms; the witches who were said to ride the storms were often pictured on black cats.
Dogs and wolves were symbols of winds, and the Norse storm god, Odin, was frequently shown with dogs and wolves hovered around him. In the saying, “raining cats and dogs,” cats symbolize the rain and dogs symbolize the wind. One other belief is that thunder and lightning represent a dog and cat fight.
Some have even said that “Cats and dogs” may derive from the Greek expression, cata doxa, meaning “contrary to experience or belief.” If it is raining cats and dogs it is raining unusually and unbelievably hard.
The only thing we know for sure is that the saying is very old, and that no one knows for sure the true origin.
Stan St. Clair is the author of the best-selling book “Most Comprehensive Origins of Clichés, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions.”
If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.