Like many phrases evoking animals, “raining cats and dogs” has been used so commonly that its origins are taken for granted. And those who do wonder why people started associating heavy rainfall with falling pets will find the phrase’s origins shrouded in myth and conflicting interpretations. Many of these interpretations are even stranger than the original phrase would suggest.
The most common theory dates back to England in the 1500s, when houses were far less stable than modern construction allows. During rain storms, the only warm part of a house was the roof, which was made of thick piled straw, so animals would go up there for shelter. However,the rain would make the straw slippery, calling many of the creatures to slide off-- thus, heavy storms would “rain cats and dogs”.
Other theories are tied more towards various obscure etymologies. It’s theorized that the Greek phrase “Katadoupoi “ and the French phrase “Katadupe”, both meaning waterfall, were corrupted in the English to “cats and dogs”. There’s also the theory that the phrase comes from Norse mythology, where cats symbolized wind and dogs symbolized rain. In all likelihood, however, the phrase has a more simple and grisly explanation. During intense storms, a lot of animals would die, and their bodies would be washed over the streets.
It should be noted that it has never literally rained cats and dogs anywhere on Earth. There have been rare instances of raining animals, during really heavy storms. However, these are usually smaller, aquatic animals like fish and frogs, picked up from tornado waterspouts.
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About the author:
A freelance writer/cartoonist living in LA, with my fiance' and our wonderful cat. You can see my work at www.rubysworldcomic.com and rubynation.smackjeeves.com