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This phrase appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2005:

Too bad his long goodbye was not also a farewell to his brand of Rather-biased journalism, which is all over the press like green hair on a Chia Pet after a Texas toad-choker.

Googling toad-choker suggests it is a slang term regional to the Southern U.S. and particularly Texas. Farlex Idioms gives this definition:

a (real) toad-choker: A particularly heavy or torrential downpour of rain. (Chiefly heard in the southern United States.)

I can't find any reputable source on the origin or time period of this term. It doesn't register on Google Ngram and it isn't listed in Green's Dictionary of Slang. Is it recent slang, an old folk expression, or what?

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Regarding 'toad-choker', a number of variants occur. All are Southern US in origin, and all refer to torrential rainfall. Use of the phrase is hyperbolic and humorous; the notion that toads (or frogs, see variants) actually drown in such rainfall would, in the areas where the phrase is used, be considered worth a chuckle in its own right — the phrase is not intended to be taken seriously, although undoubtedly the more courteous and circumspect of Southern speakers would briefly entertain the notion, if for no other reason than to put the person who might take the phrase seriously at their ease.

Some variants, collected from the popular press, along with the first dates of use found, and the region where the phrase was published or was said to have been used (the latter enclosed in square brackets):

toad-strangler         Yorkville, South Carolina    1870  
frog-strangler         [Texas]                      1892  
toad frog strangler    Pine Bluff, Arkansas         1902  
bull frog choker       Talladega, Alabama           1911  
toad choker            [Florida]                    1927  
frog choker            Florida                      1952  
frog drowner           Michigan                     1953  
toad drowner           Indiana                      1979 

Although not represented in the first uses of the variants until 1979, Indiana was well-represented overall in the regions of use.

In the 'scientific', or at least systematic, 1962 The regional vocabulary of Texas, by Elmer Bagby Atwood, Atwood reports percentages of possible occurrences from field collections for various phrases denoting 'torrential rain':

For an unusually heavy rain that does not last very long, the most frequent expression is gully washer (37), followed by downpour (30), and cloudburst (19) (Map 89). Other less common terms (less than 5 per cent) are flood, flash flood, pourdown, and waterspout. A good many humorous phrases have a limited currency — from two to ten occurrrences each. Among these are chunk floater, chunk mover, frog strangler, dam buster, stump mover, trash floater, and toad strangler. Many others occur only once each, but may not necessarily be original: clod roller, cob floater, duck drencher, dumplin mover, and so on.

[Bold emphasis mine. For details of Atwood's methodology, see linked work.]

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I looked up water aeration (the act of introducing oxgen to water), and found mention of low oxygen levels due to heavy rain:

During heavy rain, London's sewage storm pipes overflow into the River Thames, sending dissolved oxygen levels plummeting and threatening the species it supports..

Another source states that rain acidity can be the cause:

Therefore, the amount of oxygen in the water is positively correlated to pH – the higher the pH, the more hydroxyl ions in the mix, therefore the more oxygen. So acid rain has a low level of oxygen within it.

It continues about the negative impact to fish in cases of heavy rainfall:

Is this due to the fact the rainwater contains very little oxygen? Does this push the fish deeper as they now cannot breathe very well in the surface layers? I would suggest it is a combination of all of the above factors – the sense of relief, the low levels of oxygen in the surface layers, the swings in barometric pressure they feel in their swim bladders and the fact this combination has got the carp ‘stirred up’ and moving about.


So it seems fair to say that heavy rain can have a negative effect on the oxygenation of water. Therefore, heavy rain can cause fish (and toads) to suffocate from a lack of oxygen.

It seems fair to assume that "choking" and "suffocating" are synonymous enough for the current context, given that "toad-choker" is not intended to be factually correct, and is a rather blunt way of phrasing it.

The article mentions that deoxygenation of the water is not the sole cause. However, given that regional slang terms have little to no requirement of factual correctness, it's open to interpretation that people refer to deoxygenation as both the effect of heavy rainfall and the sole cause for the dead toads that follow in its wake.

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According to this entry in the Dictionary of American Regional English, the phrase "toad-strangler" shows up mostly around the Gulf states and spans from at least 1906 to today.

1906 Landmark (Statesville NC) 1 June [4/5] (newspaperarchive.com) TX, Have had several rains in the past two weeks and last night a regular toad strangler fell.

http://dare.wisc.edu/words/100-entries/toad-strangler

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