Lisa's week

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Lisa's week: Idiom of the week - Raining cats and dogs

It’s been quite some time since we talked about the meaning of an idiom and as I mentioned this one two weeks ago, I thought it might be interesting to look at it a little more closely.

Example in use: “Have you seen the weather outside?! I wouldn’t go out without an umbrella if I were you, it’s raining cats and dogs!”

Meaning: It’s raining really heavily.

Possible German equivalent: Es regnet in Strömen.

Possible origin: No one seems to know the real origin of this idiom but suggestions are that it appears in the 17th century and no, there’s no history of a natural phenomenon of animals literally falling from the sky!

There are several competing theories, one of which is that animals might have slept on the thatched roofs of houses during that time. When heavy rains came, they would have been swept off the roof onto the streets below giving the impression of them falling out of the sky. However, this seems improbable as dogs are unlikely to seek a sleeping place on top of the roof itself and the thatch would not allow either animal to make a bed within the hay as it’s very compact and designed to allow the water to run off. It seems unlikely to everyone that any animal would choose such an uncomfortable location, especially in heavy rain.

One rather more gruesome theory is that dead animals would be washed out of the gutters in heavy rain and carried along the streets by the water. The sight of this rather unpleasant sight of dogs and cats floating by might have given the impression that they had, in fact, fallen out of the sky. In 1710, Jonathan Swift published a poem called “A Description of a City Shower” in the Tatler magazine and it would appear to discuss this very occurrence, suggesting that it was a familiar city sight.

Now in contiguous Drops the Flood comes down,
Threat'ning with Deluge this devoted Town.
Sweeping from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

One last, somewhat disputed, theory is that it relates to mythology. Gods and wolves were associated with wind and rain because they attended Odin, the God of Storms. At the same time, witches flew in the storm and took on the form of cats. So we have dogs relating to wind and cats related to heavy rain and it’s possible the phrase was born. Well, I for one, am not so sure about the relevance of this theory but it would suggest that the phrase has been around for a very long time.

But don’t forget what I mentioned the other week – while it’s a valid expression to use, we don’t say it as often as you might think! Even if you think that it rains cats and dogs every day over on the island!

rain / reɪn


What is Lisa's week?

"We’ve (hopefully) been entertaining you so far with the meaning and background of a weekly English idiom and now we’ve decided to expand that a little to give me the chance to share some details that come my way in my daily life as a Business English teacher. I hope to find weekly tidbits of information and experience to tell you about such as British traditions that I (or we) celebrate, or typical mistakes made when speaking English, or even some of the funny things I come across in my daily life. We hope that you’ll enjoy the insight into the life of a Brit in Germany!"


Episode 1: The Queen's 90th birthday

Episode 2: What did you do last Sunday?

Episode 3: What's the best way to answer?

Episode 4: The sound of London

Episode 5: Not just a last resort

Episode 6: Quick tip of the week: advice vs. advise

Episode 7: Title talk

Episode 8: The Union Jack

Episode 9: Why Thursday?

Episode 10: Quick tip of the week - Are you watching or just looking?

Episode 11: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Episode 12: Don't forget to take you handy to the public viewing!

Episode 13: Up in the Highlands

Episode 14: Quick tip of the week - "Popular" false friends

Episode 15: Pie in the sky 

Episode 16: Through the tunnel

Episode 17: Keep left!

Episode 18: Quick tip of the week - Rise vs. raise vs. arise

Episode 19: How do you say that?

Episode 20: Back to School!

Episode 21: Sweet cravings

Episode 22: Can you change a fiver?

Episode 23: Grabbing some "me time"

Episode 24: Typical Mistakes (part 1)

Episode 25: Fancy a cuppa?

Episode 26: Quip tip of the week - Fell vs. fall etc.

Episode 27: Things that go bump in the night!

Episode 28: Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpower, treason and plot

Episode 29: What's that badge you're wearing?

Episode 30: Bless you!

Episode 31: What are you thankful for?

Episode 32: Where's the larget Christmas Market outside Germany or Austria?

Episode 33: What's behind the door?

Episode 34: The joy of a Christmas cracker!

Episode 35: Does it all fit on the table?

Episode 36: Seeing in the New Year

Episode 37: How are your resolutions going?

Episode 38: Quick tip of the week - "Popular" false friends - part 2

Episode 39: What will the Year of the Rooster mean for you?

Episode 40: Sweet Valentine

Episode 41: A Reminder

Episode 42: I'll have mine with sugar and lemon juice, please!

Episode 43: The joy of golden daffodils

Episode 44: To correct or not to correct, that is the question

Episode 45: The whole world's going green!