Raining cats and dogs

Patti J. Kurtz kurtpatt4 at NETSCAPE.NET
Mon Jan 24 18:24:05 UTC 2005

Snopes has this to say:

    I'll describe their houses a little. You've heard of thatch roofs,
    well that's all they were. Thick straw, piled high, with no wood
    underneath. They were the only place for the little animals to get
    warm. So all the pets; dogs, cats and other small animals, mice,
    rats, bugs, all lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery
    so sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Thus the
    saying, "it's raining cats and dogs,"

Mice, rats, and bugs definitely take up residence in thatch roofs -- to
them it's a highrise hay mow. Cats and dogs, however, don't go up there.

The saying it's raining cats and dogs was first noted in the 17th
century, not the 16th. A number of theories as to its origin exist:

    * By evoking the image of cats and dogs fighting in a riotous,
      all-out manner, it expresses the fury of a sudden downpour.

    * Primitive drainage systems in use in the 17th century could be
      overwhelmed by heavy rainstorms, leading to gutters overflowing
      with debris that included dead animals.

    * In Northen European mythology, it is believed cats influence the
      weather and dogs represent wind.

    * The saying might have derived from the obsolete French word
      catadoupe, meaning waterfall or cataract.

    * It might have come from a similar-sounding Greek phrase meaning
      "an unlikely occurrence."

Patti Kurtz
Minot State University

laurence.horn at YALE.EDU wrote:

>---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: Raining cats and dogs
>At 12:59 PM -0500 1/24/05, James A. Landau wrote:
>>I heard the following story about the phrase "raining cats and dogs" and
>>would like to know if it is true, etymythology, or undecided:
>>"The phrase comes from the days when most roofs were thatch.  Now thatch
>>contains seeds, which means it attracts mice and rats who eat the
>>seeds.  To get
>>the rhodents out of their rooves, people would turn their cats and dogs loose
>>on the roof.  When it rained, the felines and canines were washed
>>off the roof,
>>hence the expression."
>This is an entry in the immortal "Life in the 15th century"
>collection, a web-circulated panoply of etymythology if there ever
>was one.  Without checking the snopes folks, I would expect it's
>exactly as accurate as the Hellenized reconstruction of "rhodent"
>above--stemming no doubt from the days of yore in which rats' teeth
>were shaped like the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet.


Dr. Patti J. Kurtz

Assistant Professor, English

Director of the Writing Center

Minot State University

Minot, ND 58707

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