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I have heard a couple of times recently the phrase "don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining", usually in the context of a heated argument so I've hesitated to ask speaker what exactly he meant by it. Can anyone here help?

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I've heard the variant "Don't piss down my back..." –  z7sg Ѫ Jul 21 '11 at 12:06
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Note to mods: "piss" is neither obscene nor taboo. Shakespeare even used it. shakespeareswords.com/Headwords-Instance.aspx?Ref=13208 –  Robusto Jul 21 '11 at 13:33
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Oh, and special note: I've heard Shakespeare broadcast on the radio. Specifically, a broadcast of Two Gentlemen of Verona, which did not bleep the link above. So it is, ipso facto, "radio friendly" ... –  Robusto Jul 21 '11 at 13:53
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Note to @Robusto: I think we can safely assume the relatively high number of view/votes on this Q owes more to the scatological/humorous implications of the title than to any genuine interest in the meaning or origin of the expression. Not that I would wish to close it, but I do think it could be seen as the thin end of a wedge. Plus I doubt many people would really need help understanding the expression even on first hearing. –  FumbleFingers Jul 21 '11 at 16:20
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I heard a variant of this many years ago during a project meeting. An aide turned toward an Air Force Colonel and said "Sir, I think he's pissing in your ear and telling you it's raining." –  Ferruccio Jul 21 '11 at 17:55

6 Answers 6

up vote 48 down vote accepted

It suggests that the person you're upset with is harming you, making an unbelievably brazen claim that they are not, and that you have seen through their meagre attempt at deception.

There are a few variant forms. There's pee versus piss for varying the level of crudity, and even spit to avoid the subject of urine entirely. The thing being urinated (or spat) on can be a boot, shoe, leg, back, face, etc. Some examples:

Gal, you can't spit in my face and call it rain. [spoken to one who is trying to deceive.]
Boy, you can't piss on me and tell me it's raining.

(from Honey, hush! An Anthology of African-American Women's Humor by Daryl Cumber Dance, 1998, p88)

Senator: The war's over. Our side won the war. Now we must busy ourselves winning the peace. And Fletcher, there's an old saying: To the victors belong the spoils.
Fletcher: There's another old saying, Senator: Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining.

(from the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, 1976)

Listen, you son of a bitch, you think you can get this straightened out? Well, King Kong can't straighten it out for you. Are you trying to spit in my face and tell me it's raining outside?

(from Alias Big Cherry by Robert H. Adleman, 1973)

Booker T: Tell me anything, boy. Pee on my back and tell me it's raining.

(from the play Five on the Black Hand Side by Charlie L. Russell, 1969)

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Excellent answer. The nuance of the expression is that something bad is being presented as something good, and the speaker is aware of this. –  The Raven Jul 21 '11 at 13:11
    
@The Raven: I agree with the nuance you describe more than I agree with the idiom focusing on an unbelievable claim. –  MrHen Jul 21 '11 at 14:46
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@MrHen I tweaked my definition but I do think your answer is a better and more lucid explanation of what the expression means –  alexg Jul 21 '11 at 15:19
    
@alex: Ah, yeah, that edit works well. +1 (And there is nothing with having two good answers! :) –  MrHen Jul 21 '11 at 15:43
    
@alexg: I am not especially familiar with this phrase myself, so I have to concede that MrHen's answer could well be a more accurate reflection of how it is meant in actual usage. But I fully agree with your reading that "rain" isn't necessarily presented by anyone as a good thing, just that it's not the offender's piss (or other objectionable fluid being passed off as rain). I mean, really, rain is very often considered a decidedly bad thing! But it's almost never considered an objectionable thing. –  John Y Jul 21 '11 at 21:55

It means I can't be so easily fooled

Other similar expressions would include

I wasn't born yesterday

I didn't come down in the last shower of rain

and many others. Basically I'm not a fool, but the expression has more force if a little crude language is used.

But the force of such expressions relies on both parties understanding what it means. It might have been a deflating experience for the other if you had asked what he meant.

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It's more specific, though, because "don't piss on..." implies that the person you are speaking to is intentionally harming you. "I wasn't born yesterday" could apply to other situations. –  benzado Jul 21 '11 at 17:37

There are a few major uses of the phrase Don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining. The basic idea is that someone just blatantly insulted or wronged another and, when caught, tried to convince people that it was a good thing. This would be akin to stealing money out of a desk drawer and then trying to claim you were going to put it in the bank for them. The thief was caught pissing on someone but didn't own up to doing anything wrong — even worse, the thief tried to play the situation off as a positive act.

The actions here don't need to be covert, either. If I walk up to someone and slap them in the face with the excuse, "Oh, you had a fly on you" they could reasonably respond with, "Don't piss on my boots and tell me its raining." The main purpose of the saying to identify a bad thing as bad and to not dress it up as a good thing.

Likewise, the actions don't need to be intentional. They don't even need to be caused anyone in particular. If someone's lover just left him and a friend tries consoling him by saying, "You were above her anyway" the same response would be appropriate: "Don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining." In other words, stop telling me a bad thing is a good thing. Just admit it was a bad thing.

To summarize:

  • Pissing on someone is an idiom that means doing something bad to someone
  • Don't piss on my boots and tell me its raining is a response to someone dressing up a bad situation — usually for their own benefit — by telling them to knock it off and stop lying
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For "it's raining", do you see this as the claim that what's happening is a good thing, or is it just avoiding responsibility? I read it as the latter: I did something bad, I'm brazenly claiming it's not me doing it, and you've caught me out. –  alexg Jul 21 '11 at 13:35
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@alexg: I consider it more of trying to make what's happened seem like something other than pissing. As in, "What a good thing!" "Are you kidding? You're pissing on my boot..." –  MrHen Jul 21 '11 at 14:44
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@Fumble: I am not selling you anything. I am telling you what the phrase means and how it is used. Not only that, I am not trying to say that rain has anything to do with lucky; I don't mention luck or fortune at all. I have no idea what you thought I was trying to say... but I don't think it is related to what I actually said. (Also, you seem to do this a lot... so... I don't understand where you are coming from. I don't know how to tell you that you are wandering around in left field politely.) –  MrHen Jul 21 '11 at 16:46
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@MrHen, your first paragraph might lead one to think that you could substitute "insult me" for "piss on my boots", but "don't insult me and call it rain" makes no sense. It's the literal sense of "piss" and not the idiomatic one that's in play here because the parallel between urine and rain is what makes the metaphor work. It's true that no real urination need take place because the entire phrase is a metaphor (likewise, the speaker need not wear real boots), but the phrase invokes an image of urine, not just insult. –  Caleb Jul 21 '11 at 18:11
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@MrHen: Removing the references to the idomatic meaning of "piss" will (IMO) simplify and clarify your answer. I'd remove the love triangle, too -- "pissing" as in "a pissing match" involves competing, whereas the phrase at hand basically means "don't lie to my face." –  Caleb Jul 21 '11 at 18:50

I take the saying as:

Don't create a problem and blame it on external factors.

Because the "rain" came from YOU, and not from the weather.

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+1 for being short and to the point. Though I'd be inclined to say a problem for me in the paraphrasing. –  FumbleFingers Jul 21 '11 at 16:23

I always simply took this to mean "Don't lie" or "Don't try to fool me." Even more specifically, "don't try to fool me, damaging me in the process."

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"Don't tell me something that's clearly false and then invent a ridiculous story to back it up."

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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 21 '11 at 11:58

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