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It’s Raining Pitchforks?!?

Cake walk. Embossed postcard shows a cat and dog dressed as humans performing a cakewalk dance (ca1905)

The phrase “it’s raining pitchforks” or “it’s raining stair-rods” to describe heavy rain never caught on, however, the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” has become a popular way for us to describe a heavy downpour.

Here in DC, and from a look at the satellite picture from weather.gov , the entire eastern seaboard is going to be hit with heavy rains today. It also looks like our friends in southern California may also get some heavy showers.

 So where did the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” originate?  Scientifically speaking, it cannot actually rain cats and dogs. It is impossible for our lovable pets to transform into liquid or vapor. Only tiny, airborne particles can serve as the nuclei of raindrops.

 There are many theories as to the origination of this phrase. Most would agree that the phrase was popularized by our neighbors across the pond in England. In 1651 Henry Vaughan wrote in his collection of poems Olor Iscanus that a roof was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.” And Richard Brome wrote in 1652 City Witt that “it shall rain dogs and polecats.” (Polecats are related to the weasel and were common in Great Britain through the end of the nineteenth century.) Then we come to Jonathan Swift’s 1738 Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, in which one of his characters fears that it will “rain cats and dogs.” 

 There are many more theories that delve into the mythological and literal explanation of this phrase- to read more visit our Everyday Mystery page What is the origin of the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs?”

2 Comments

  1. FLBSK
    September 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I venture to guess that American English has a legacy from British English that it will never be able to divorce itself from. Alas, what are we to do?

  2. Karen Cruz http://passioninwords.us
    September 30, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Back in high school I remembered a discussion of old sayings, and this one in particular was talked about originating from 1th century England. It was said that when there were heavy winds and rains, dead animal would often get thrown around or be seen floating in puddles. It was a sing of very harsh weather when that occured.

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