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What Does Raining Cats and Dogs Mean? Examples & History

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

man with cat and dog in the rain

What Does Raining Cats and Dogs Mean? Examples & History

Language is interesting in that we often use terminology and phrases that we are familiar with and have grown up with without actually knowing their exact meaning or how they came about.

“It’s raining cats and dogs” is a great example that many of us use regularly. The phrase is used to describe heavy rainfall. However, the literal sense of the phrase is impossible and would be somewhat frightening. So, how does it make sense and provide context to what we are trying to say? And why are our beloved cats and dogs used to describe the weather when the heavens open? Read on to find out!

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The History of the Phrase “It’s Raining Cats and Dogs”

This phrase refers to bad weather and will usually be used by people being grumpy about it, but why must we involve our furry pets? There are a few theories about why cats and dogs were brought into the mix.

heavy rains
Image Credit: ND700, Shutterstock

The European Influence

The most well-known theory doesn’t have the happiest story, but it provides some context to how this phrase came to be. It was first observed in 17th-century Europe, where the poor drainage system and the high population of stray cats and dogs were to blame. Strays that died were usually left in the streets, and many died in the rainstorms.

The rain would carry away the dead strays, and because of the poor drainage system, the streets would be littered with the deceased animals. It appeared like it had rained cats and dogs.

The Tudor Era

The expression may also date back to the Tudor era. At that time, the only place for most impoverished residents to keep their animals was in the home with them, and domestic animals were commonly stowed in the rafters to keep warm. In those days, roofs were made of simple thatch, and when it rained heavily, rain would pass through the thatch and either flush the pets away or bring them to ground level.

a kitten outside in the rain
Image Credit: NanaCola, Pixabay

The Mythological Basis

A mythological theory of the phrase is that the Norse god of storms, Odin, was commonly pictured with wolves and dogs and was symbolic of the wind. Witches were often pictured riding their brooms with black cats during heavy storms, which became a sign of heavy rain for sailors. This inspired the term for heavy winds (dogs) and lots of rain (cats) to be “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

French, Old English, and Greek Influences

Some have also suggested that the phrase is a play on the archaic French word” catadoupe,” which translates to “waterfall.” That explains the first part of the saying, while it was also suggested it was because waterfalls produce noises that are similar to cats and dogs.

Furthermore, a waterfall or cataract is referred to by the Old English name, catadupe, which is often spelled catadupa and usually refers to a narrow, rocky portion of the Nile River. It might alternatively be derived from the Greek word “cata doxa,” which means “contrary to experience or belief.”

The first recorded use of this phrase was in a collection of poems by Henry Vaughan in 1651, where he referred to a roof that was resistant to “dogs and cats rained in shower.” One year later, an English playwright, Richard Brome, wrote in his comedy City Witt, “It shall rain dogs and polecats.”

Cat looking out the window
Image Credit: Natali9701, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

The meaning of the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” is steeped in mystery, but today, it is used to describe heavy rainfall and bad weather conditions. It can be used to describe the weather that has passed, that is currently happening, or that may potentially happen. The question of why we say “it’s raining cats and dogs” appears to have no definitive answer, but your best bet is to carry an umbrella, just in case.

Featured Image Credit: Elena Arkadova, Shutterstock

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