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Elizabeth is a Vancouver-based writer, editor, and author. Her first book “Beyond Black and White” is available now. She is an old soul who's young at heart, a human jukebox, and a corgi lady in training. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @ElizabethThe.

The More You Know: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs!

Pluie des chats et chiens

Pluie des chats et chiens (Wikipedia)

University student and perpetual procrastinator, Elizabeth Rosalyn has chosen to put her Google/Wikipedia researching skills to good use by sharing her findings on random topics in her next installment of “The More You Know”. This month, she navigates the net for the origins of the expression, “It’s Raining Cats and Dogs!”

The world has been treated to some wacky weather throughout these past few months –  Snowstorms, hailstorms, thunder-and-lightning storms, and, from where I currently sit in my hometown of Vancouver, rain, rain, and lots more rain. As I take shelter indoors from the showers outside, I wonder to myself, what caused us to exclaim that cats and dogs are raining down from the sky, despite how scientifically impossible such a furry meteorological phenomenon would be? (Storm Warning: the answer is not for the faint of animal-loving hearts…)

When it comes to scouring the internet for the roots of this figurative expression, you can find many cases related to mythology and etymology, but it is in literature that the most realistic explanation for this hyperbolic idiom of heavy downpours of rain derives from…

The expression was developed across the pond by several acclaimed writers from 17th and 18th century England. The first published use of a phrase similar to ‘raining cats and dogs’ was in a collection of poems entitled, Olor Iscanus (1651) by poet Henry Vaughan, who referred to a roof that was protected against “dogs and cats rained in shower”. In the following year, playwright Richard Brome wrote in his comedy, The City Wit (1652), a reference to stormy weather: “It shall raine… Dogs and Polecats”.

Why the repeated references to architecture and animals? At the time, the poor drainage systems on buildings in Europe disgorged their contents during heavy showers, including the corpses of animals that had congregated in them. While the animals did not fall directly from the sky, the sight of deceased cats and dogs streaming by in stormy weather likely inspired the coining of the phrase.

The popularization of this phenomenon in literature is widely credited to the prolific English writer, Jonathan Swift, who often commented on the filthy state of London society in the 1700s. He documents the occurrence in his satirical poem, “A Description of a City Shower” (1710), first published in Tatler magazine, in which he describes the floods that followed after rainfall, leaving behind the vividly disgusting and morbid image of “drowned puppies” and “dead cats” flowing in the streets.

The first appearance of the currently used version of the phrase, ‘raining cats and dogs’, is found in Swift’s A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation (1738), a satire on the conversations of the upper classes, where one of his characters fears that it will rain cats and dogs: “I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs”.

Knowing all this, the bizarre precipitation event is not quite warm and fuzzy spectacle to behold as previously thought, now is it?

Now from all Parts the swelling Kennels flow,
And bear their Trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all Hues and Odours seem to tell
What Street they sail’d from, by their Sight and Smell.
They, as each Torrent drives, with rapid Force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their Course,
And in huge Confluent join’d at Snow-Hill Ridge,
Fall from the Conduit, prone to Holbourn-Bridge.
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.

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2 Comments on “The More You Know: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs!”

  1. culturemonk April 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Enjoyed :)

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