What does it mean it’s raining cats and dogs? Origins of the expression

Last updated on: August 9, 2023 by Crystal Uys

very heavy rain in the garden

The phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” is a common expression used to describe heavy rain or a sudden downpour. While the meaning of the expression is well known, its origins are less clear. Many theories suggest the origin of the phrase, ranging from the practical to the mythical.

Some suggest that the phrase originated from the poor drainage systems of 17th-century Europe. Meanwhile, others believe it may have its roots in Norse mythology. Another theory suggests that the phrase was a French word misunderstood by English speakers.

Although there is no definitive answer, examining these theories can tell us how the expression evolved. Let’s explore the different theories about the origins of the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

What does “it’s raining cats and dogs” mean?

In modern usage, the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” is usually used to describe very heavy rain. This often makes the rain seem unexpected or sudden. For example, someone might say, “I was going for a walk, but it’s pouring rain outside. »

The phrase can also describe other things falling heavily or in large quantities. For example, someone might say, “The leaves are falling like it’s pouring rain.” » This would describe a particularly heavy fall leaf fall.

Alternatively, they might say, “My inbox is full of emails; It’s raining heavily here. This would describe a staggering number of incoming messages.

Overall, “it’s raining cats and dogs” is a common and flexible idiom used to describe heavy rain. It can also define other things falling heavily, in large quantities, or in a chaotic or disorderly situation.

heavy rain outside in the garden
Image credit: chulmin1700, Pixabay

Origin of “It’s raining cats and dogs”

The origin of the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” is uncertain. This has been the subject of much speculation and debate among language experts for centuries. Although the true origin of the phrase is unknown, several theories detail how it came to be.

Here are some cultural and historical references that help provide context for its use. They also highlight the various associations and meanings that the phrase has acquired over time.

Medieval Europe

“It’s raining cats and dogs” is thought to come from medieval Europe, where people built their homes with thatched roofs. Thatched roofs were popular because they were easy to assemble and provided good insulation. But during heavy rains, the straw weighed down the roof, causing it to collapse.

Small animals, such as cats and dogs, sometimes hid in the rafters of these roofs to escape the rain. When the roof collapsed during a heavy rainstorm, animals would fall off the roof. This unexpected sight during heavy rain could have led people to say it was raining cats and dogs.

Although there is not enough evidence to support this theory, it is popular among language experts. Thus, it is often suggested as a possible origin of the expression. The theory has some historical merit, as thatched roofs were common in medieval Europe.

These roofs often collapsed during heavy rains in medieval times. Additionally, cats and dogs lived as pets and might have sought shelter in the rafters during a storm.

Nordic mythology

Another “rain of cats and dogs” theory suggests that it comes from Norse mythology. In Norse mythology, cats and dogs were associated with storms and bad weather. The Norse god Odin had a pair of cats that he sent into the clouds to fight Thor, the god of thunder.

The cats would claw at the clouds and make them release their rain, leading one to believe that the cats caused the rain. So the phrase described the idea that during heavy rainstorms, these mythological creatures would fight in the clouds and make the rain fall harder.

Although there is little to no evidence to support this theory, it is a possible origin of the phrase.

heavy rain in the streets
Image credit: Benfe, Pixabay

French expression “Catadoupe”

Another theory suggests that it may come from the French expression “catadoupe”. In French, “catadoupe” means waterfall or cataract. This expression may have entered England during the Norman Conquest of 1066, when French became the language of the English court.

When pronounced quickly or with a regional accent, “catadoupe” can sound like “cats and dogs.” The expression may have been misheard and repeated by English speakers. Eventually, it became the English expression “raining cats and dogs”.

Although little evidence supports this theory, it is a plausible explanation. The fact that many people spoke French in England during the Middle Ages makes this credible. The similarity between “catadoupe” and “cats and dogs” also adds to its plausibility.

Greek expression

Another theory suggests that it may come from the Greek phrase “cata doxa”. In Greek, “cata doxa” means “contrary to experience or belief.” This expression was used to describe situations that were unexpected or contrary to what one might expect.

“Raining cats and dogs” describes an unusual and unexpected situation that seems contrary to all belief. If it rained so hard that it seemed impossible, people might say it was raining cats and dogs.

The fact that “cata doxa” and “cats and dogs” look alike could have contributed to its evolution. But no clear evidence suggests that the expression was borrowed from Greek.

Poem by Jonathan Swift

One theory suggests that the phrase refers to the poor drainage systems of buildings in 17th-century Europe. During heavy rains, building drains could become clogged with debris and other materials. As a result, they would overflow and spill their contents onto the streets below.

This could include the corpses of all the animals accumulated in the sewers. It was a grim and unpleasant sight for the spectators.

This theory is referenced in Jonathan Swift’s 1710 poem “Description of a Town Shower”. Swift describes a heavy rain in London that sends unpleasant objects along with the flood. This includes “drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all soaked in mud, dead cats and turnips.”

“It’s raining cats and dogs” describes an unpleasant and unexpected spectacle. So this is consistent with the idea that it comes from seeing dead animals and other debris during heavy rains.

a woman and a child standing in the streets in the rain
Image credit: JumpStory

European folklore

One possible reference is the association of cats and dogs with witches and their familiars in European folklore. In the Middle Ages, cats and dogs were often depicted as witches’ companions. Animals were also believed to have magical powers.

Thus, the idea of ​​cats and dogs falling from the sky during heavy rains may have been considered a supernatural event. It was believed that these witches could control the weather. People also believed that they could use their powers to make it rain cats and dogs as punishment or to cause chaos.

The association of these animals with witches dates back to the medieval period. Cats were also thought to communicate with spirits and shapeshift into other animals. Likewise, dogs were considered to have the power to detect and ward off evil spirits.

The expression may have served as a warning of impending danger or a sign of bad luck.

Animal welfare in the 18th century

Another reference is the association of cats and dogs with animal welfare in the 1800s. During this period, there were concerns about treatment of cats and dogs in urban areas. Animals were often neglected or mistreated in these areas.

The expression may have been used to draw attention to the plight of these animals. It may also have encouraged people to be more concerned about their well-being.

Absurd sentence

There are many theories about the origin of the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs.” But it is also possible that there is no clear or logical explanation as to its origin. It could be a nonsense phrase used for humorous or exaggerated effect.

He could have described particularly heavy rainfall without any underlying metaphor or symbolism. It is similar to other English expressions for heavy rain, such as “it’s raining pitchforks” or “it’s raining hammer handles.” These expressions convey the intensity of a storm without any deeper meaning.

It is also possible that the expression evolved from many different origins and influences. As with many aspects of language and culture, the origins of the expression may have been lost or forgotten. New interpretations and meanings emerged as words were passed down from generation to generation.

Ultimately, the exact origin of the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” may remain a mystery.


“It’s raining cats and dogs” is a well-known expression used to describe heavy rain or a sudden downpour. Despite its widespread use, the origins of the expression remain mysterious. Several different theories have been proposed over the years.

Whatever its origin, its popularity highlights the evolution of language and culture. From ancient myths For practical purposes, the expression has been shaped by many cultural and historical influences.

Featured image credit: sirtravelalot, Shutterstock

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