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I was wondering about the phrase it's raining cats and dogs; I've heard two versions of the meaning of the phrase and I was wondering which one was correct or wrong altogether.

The first: with 16th century European peasant homes frequently being thatched, animals seeking shelter from the elements would fall out during heavy rains.

The second: that drainage in 17th century Europe was typically poor so they would, during heavy rains, disgorge any of the animal corpses that had accumulated in them.

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And is it related to "hailing taxis and buses"? –  Malvolio Feb 27 '11 at 1:29
    
Somewhat apropos of your question, you might find it interesting to know that history has recorded cases of animals literally raining down from the heavens, numerous times -- animals much smaller than cats and dogs, mind you, usually frogs, but still the Wikipedia article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raining_animals makes for some interesting reading... –  Uticensis Feb 27 '11 at 1:32
    
This is a MUCH better answer / explanation than I could write ... loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/rainingcats.html ... kind regards, SM –  Magreve Apr 2 at 13:11
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are a few theories, that's for sure. But the bottom line is, the etymology is unknown. I won't leave you without these pointers, though:

  • The Phrase Finder:

    This is an interesting phrase in that, although there's no definitive origin, there is a likely derivation. [...] The fact that [Jonathan] Swift had alluded to the streets flowing with dead cats and dogs some years earlier and [in 1738] used 'rain cats and dogs' explicitly is good evidence that poor sanitation was the source of the phrase as we now use it.

  • Wikipedia:

    The English idiom "it is raining cats and dogs", used to describe an especially heavy rain, is of unknown etymology [...] There may not be a logical explanation; the phrase may have been used just for its nonsensical humor value[.]

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Eric Partridge corroborates The Phrase Finder in this regard. –  Robusto Feb 26 '11 at 20:43
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Phrase to rain cats and dogs is attested from 1738 (variation rain dogs and polecats is from 1652), of unknown origin, despite intense speculation.

[Reference: Etymonline.com]

Some other theories:

  • The archaic French catdoupe is a waterfall or cataract, lightning and thunder sounds like that of a cat/dog fight, cats had a big influence on the weather, and the sky dog Odin was attended to by wolves according to Norse Mythology.
  • Another theory is that in old England, they had hay roofs on their houses and the cats and dogs would sleep on the roof. When it rained, the roofs got slippery and the cats and dogs would slide off of the roofs. There for it was "Raining Cats and Dogs".
  • "Rain Cats and Dogs" stems from the Norse Mythology. Cats were believed to represent the wind and dogs represented rain. Different animals represented different weather and natural phenomenon.
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OK, there's no way a dog is going to sleep on a roof. Just not happening. Dogs are den-makers and if a dog can't dig one, it'll find a secure, covered area (like under a porch). A cat might sleep on a roof, if it's sunny, but it would come down at the first drop of rain. The other two, mythologically-based theories strike me as equally implausible, but I can't prove it. –  Malvolio Feb 27 '11 at 1:34
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For those not familiar with English, it should be noted that a 'polecat' is not a cat, it's a type of weasel or skunk. –  oosterwal Feb 27 '11 at 1:37
    
Polecat en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ilder.jpg –  belisarius Feb 27 '11 at 9:00
    
Actually, a polecat is one of few wild species of ferrets, but they belong to the "lontra" animal group along with otters, weasles, and a few others. –  user59509 Dec 11 '13 at 21:05
    
@Malvolio Mr. Charles M. Schultz would like a word with you. –  user867 Jul 4 at 4:04
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