Raining Cats and Dogs: What Does This Idiom Mean?

Idiomatic expressions are a kind of informal language that carries a meaning that’s different from the meaning of the words in the expression. Every language has idioms. Picking them up can be difficult if you are not a native speaker of that language.

If English isn’t your native language, though, don’t worry. One of the things you can do to learn the meanings behind idiomatic expressions is to ask about phrases that you don’t understand.

You can also check our posts. We’ve covered a few idioms in our articles. A couple of our popular posts include how ‘bout them apples and crocodile tears.

Today, we’re going to cover an idiom related to the weather. This phrase or slang is raining cats and dogs.

What is “Raining Cats and Dogs?”

Raining cats and dogs is another way to describe heavy rain. Source: Pinterest

The phrase “raining cats and dogs” means heavy rain. People use this idiom to express rainfall that’s coming down quickly and hard. You could get incredibly wet if you’re on the street without an umbrella and it’s raining cats and dogs.

If you want to use an alternative word or phrase for “raining cats and dogs,” you could use coming down in torrents, raining pitchforks (a similar idiomatic expression) and raining heavily.

Where Did Raining Cats and Dogs Come From?

The idiom “raining cats and dogs” is a peculiar expression that has an uncertain origin. Although we don’t know exactly who came up with the phrase first or what this idiom meant originally, we can say that it’s not due to people’s pets falling from the sky.

As odd as this may sound, this phrase is prominent in nearly every major dialect of the English language. This includes the roots of England, the blended Singlish from Singapore and even the multilingual Indian English.

Take note, though, that the phrase isn’t literal. As of this time, there are zero recorded incidents of kitties and fidos dropping from the heavens like furry rain clumps. You might argue that a twister can make these pets fly and fall from the sky, but the same goes for people. This would be closer to hail than precipitation.

Given the idiom’s uncertain origin, there are theories going around on the web that might explain the existence of the phrase.

Here are a few of them:

Norse Mythology

Odin, the storm god, in Norse mythology. Source: Pinterest

Vikings took cats and dogs on the sea and during raids because of myths, as beasts of burden and as pets. People back then thought that cats can influence storms. One superstition explains that cats had great control over storms and weather. Dogs, on the other hand, were a signal in wind.

Another myth explains that the dog attendants of Odin, the storm god, were gusts of wind. Cats symbolized torrential rains.

Wait, there’s more. A Norse Pantheon-related description mentioned that witches who can turn into cats rode upon the storm to follow the storm god and his pooch. The canines, in this scenario, could refer to Freki and Geri in the Poetic Edda.

These theories, however, are as loose and wild as the storms they describe.

Old British Origin

Another possible theory behind the “it’s raining cats and dogs” idiom originates from old British towns that were lacking effective construction. Due to flood risks and subpar town design, dogs and cats would drown whenever a major storm hits the area. Once the storm is over, people would go out of their homes and see dead bodies of pets and other animals floating by as if they had fallen from the sky.

The Thatched Roof Theory

The term “thatch” refers to a kind of cover or padding made using woven and bound straw, palm, reeds or other similar plant materials. Back then, a majority of houses had thatched roofs. During storms, dogs and cats would hide inside the thatch for protection.

During a storm or periods of heavy rain, the water would unfortunately wash away the animals out of the thatch. People considered the falling of cats and dogs as “raining,” which eventually turned into a popular phrase.

Greek Expression

Some attribute the origin of raining cats and dogs to the Greek expression cata doxa. This term means contrary to belief or experience. If people said that “it’s raining cats and dogs,” this meant that the rainfall is unbelievably or unusually hard.

Despite the many theories floating around, no one can say for certain where this idiomatic expression truly originated.

How Do You Use Raining Cats and Dogs in a Sentence?

Now that you know the meaning of raining cats and dogs, we now move on to using this popular idiom in a sentence.

Here are some examples of this phrase in action:

  • I had to take out the umbrella from my bag because it rained cats and dogs all afternoon.
  • You might want to wear a raincoat and a good pair of rain boots because it’s raining cats and dogs
  • The road in our town becomes flooded quickly every time it rains cats and dogs.

When you look outside and witness a heavy downpour, don’t just say that the weather is awful. Go ahead and use raining cats and dogs in everyday conversation.

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