English Expressions: Raining Cats and Dogs?

by Carolyn
(USA)

Expressions (or idioms) allow us an intriguing glance into history. Unfortunately, as with many old expressions, there's a bit of an argument over where they came from and sometimes even what they mean.

"Raining cats and dogs" can mean one of two things: The phrase describes either a very heavy rainstorm, or a very unusual event.

One of the most likely explanations for the phrase comes from 17th century England, when large cities like London did not have a proper sewer system.

Any rubbish people wanted to get rid of was thrown into the gutters that ran along the centre of the roads. When it rained, all the filth was washed down the road.

Occasionally it rained so heavily, that the swirling waters really cleared out the streets. And when dead cats and dogs floated with other rubbish down the streets... well, it's easy to imagine they'd come down with the rain.

And rainstorms so heavy that they could clear the streets of dead animals were rather rare... even in 17th century England.

If you like to puzzle over strange expressions and like to find out where they came from, take a look at The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms . It's not a book that you read from end to end. It's more like friend you call up now and then for a chat. And for that, it's seriously entertaining....

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