The phrase "put (money) away for a rainy day" originated at least 460 years ago, and probably a lot longer, since you don't just make new idioms -- the audience wouldn't understand the reference. And the phrase was apparently understood all over Western Europe at the time, being used in Italian, French and English plays of the era.

But nothing I've found explains why a "rainy day" is what you should save for, instead of -- for example -- an "unexpected storm".

  • To keep something for future use is a very old concept indeed; to call hard times a “rainy day” dates from the sixteenth century. Nicholas Breton used it in 1582 (Works): “Wise men say keepe somewhat till a rainy day.” and "There's no clear answer to when this expression began (some have traced it back to the 16th century), but it's clear that a “rainy day” is the symbol of gloom." Source
    – Justin
    Jan 5 '20 at 4:54
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    @RonJohn If you were an outdoor day labourer living each day on what you earned the day before a really rainy day would be a problem because there would be no work to be had so no money for the next day. "Putting money aside for a rainy day" would be a necessary precaution.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 5 '20 at 20:47
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    @RonJohn It's pretty wet where I live as well, but a guy who was erecting my garage once told me that there are very few days when it rains all day. Most days there's only an hour or two at the most and a wet morning usually leads into a dry afternoon. Really rainy days are common enough to need saving for but rare enough to allow you to do it.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 6 '20 at 23:35
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    "you don't just make new idioms -- the audience wouldn't understand the reference." - Just making new idioms didn't seem to hurt Shakespeare's popularity. But in any case although an idiom might seem strange 400 years later, and for example a rural idiom might not make sense to city dwellers, why wouldn't the audience understand a new idiom if it relates to concepts that are current and applicable to their culture at the time?
    – nnnnnn
    Jan 11 '20 at 7:29
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    I always imagined that it was on rainy days that you found out your roof needs fixing.
    – Jim
    Mar 1 '20 at 7:58

"A rainy day" simply means "a dark or sorrowful time"

In my childhood rainy days were always boring.

So it means to save for a time were there is little.

  • Hello, Codi. Yes, the tenor of the metaphor (what the imagery represents) is not in question. But why 'saving for a rainy day' rather than 'saving for an unexpected storm' or 'saving for a day of dark clouds' or 'saving for a drought'? is what OP is asking. Jan 14 '20 at 13:52
  • I know. The suggestions you gave would have been easier to understand, but the point of an idiom is to puzzle us and give us another perspective of the situation.
    – Coding4el
    Jan 14 '20 at 13:57
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    I'll spell it out. This doesn't answer the question. Jan 14 '20 at 14:06
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    The Bible said and it still is news that Joseph suggested storing grain for lean years. Jan 14 '20 at 14:19
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    @Yosef That's what I'm talking about
    – Coding4el
    Jan 14 '20 at 14:56

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