The sentence is from The Round House by Louise Erdrich. I'm not including the paragraph because it really is not related.

The rain was coming down like sixty now.

Is it rain speed per hour or something similar?

  • 3
    Like sixty means: Very quickly. - We need to drive like sixty in order to get there on time! idioms.thefreedictionary.com/like+sixty - see also: word-detective.com/2009/08/like-sixty
    – user 66974
    Jan 7 '20 at 19:05
  • @user067531 I suppose 'like' there is the fairly meaningless filler rather than a synonym of '[at] round about'. Jan 7 '20 at 19:12
  • It should be noted that 60 mph is "a mile a minute", which was probably the original superlative term.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 7 '20 at 22:13
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    For what it's worth, even though I'm American and this is purported to be American slang, I've never heard the expression. So I'm guessing it's not very common.
    – Richter65
    Jan 7 '20 at 22:46

It appears to mean with great force and speed.

After a search in the Corpus, I can't confidently say it simply means "very fast," taking 60 as the "breakneck driving speed" of sixty miles per hour. Although the exact origin is murky, it seems to be an inflated version of the earlier phrase "like forty," which reportedly enjoyed currency in the 17th century. The number forty has traditionally been used to refer to an indefinitely large number (with numerous examples in old fairy tales as well as the scripture), and it's not implausible for people to have ended a remark with "... like forty!" as an intensifier.

On the other hand, We know that at some point, people stopped saying forty in favor of the new number 60, using it to refer to things happening both forcefully and quickly ‒ perhaps imagining the force and the speed of a steam locomotive going full throttle! People wanted to sound hip and started to say "... like 60!" instead of the old and hackneyed "... like forty!"

Sampled from the corpus::

Burrcliff: Its Sunshine and Its Clouds (1854):

"...and the rain was streakin' it in there so like sixty."

The California Teacher - Volume 4 - Page 281 (1867):

"Ever since I sent Charlie to the public school he lies like sixty."

  • 1
    A linked attributed reference? Jan 7 '20 at 19:51
  • 1
    O.K., this is is a persuasive argument that sixty here is not a truncated version of sixty miles per hour, but then what is it a truncated version of? Sixty (or forty) of what?
    – jsw29
    Jan 7 '20 at 21:51
  • @EdwinAshworth and jsw29: Good questions. Did some editing to improve the answer a bit.
    – Apollonian
    Jan 7 '20 at 22:16
  • Apparently before "like 40" there was "like 20". These terms are most likely referring to the speed of a locomotive. Though I do see some references (including the two above) which vaguely suggest that "like sixty" may have had an obscene meaning. And Urban Dictionary says that "sixty" was once used as a somewhat pejorative term for "African American".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 7 '20 at 22:45
  • I've read about the origin of this expression before, and believe you are correct about the original meaning and the probable link to "like 40", but your specific examples from the mid-nineteenth century don't prove that "like 60" isn't about speed, because 60mph was a plausible speed for stream trains of that era.
    – nnnnnn
    Jan 7 '20 at 22:53

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