Earlier this week marked the first day of Winter. For many of us this means snow and lots of of it. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, it seems to mean rain. In fact, I overheard someone describe the conditions outside with the phrase “It is raining cats and dogs out there.” The most amusing scene popped into my head as I really thought about this phrase I had heard so many times before.
The phrase “Its raining cats and dogs” is another example of an idiom, or a group of words that have a meaning unrelated to the actual written words. In this case the words, when said together, mean that it is raining really hard outside.
The origins of this phrase are mostly unknown. The fist recorded use of the phrase in written word dates all the way back to 1651. British poet Henry Vaughan described a house with a roof strong enough to endure “dogs and cats rained in shower.”
One possible theory for the origins of the this phrase comes from Greek Mythology. Odin, the god of storms, kept with him a variety of dogs and wolves as his attendants and sailors associated them with rain. Witches, who were known to take the shape of their cats, rode on the wind. Perhaps, over time, cat and dogs became associated with heavy wind and rain for these reasons.
Another potential explanation comes from the Greek phrase “cata doxa”, which means contrary to belief or experience. If it is raining harder than a person could believe, it is not that far of a stretch to see how using the phrase cata doxa to describe it could become cats and dogs over time.
One final theory, and perhaps the most unbelievable, comes from Great Britain in the 1500’s. During this time, roofs were made of thatch, which was essentially piles of hay with no wood underneath. Apparently, at times, small animals (cats and dogs?) would climb on the roof and bury themselves in the hay to keep warm and stay safe. If it rained hard enough, these roofs would become very slippery and wash the animals right out from their cozy little hiding spot. Imagine walking by a house and having pack of small pets land on your head. You might try finding a phrase to describe the phenomenon. Its raining cats and dogs would seem the only natural fit.
Although we do not know the exact origins of the phrase “raining cats and dogs”, we do know that it has been used to describe heavy rain for quite some time. We also know that there are many theories out there. Which one is your favorite? Comment below!