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Most languages have a popular term or a traditional saying for the occurrence of rain while the sun is shining (a sunshower). Most of these expressions have been handed down from generation to generation and it may be difficult to trace their origin.

My question is about the most common term in your English speaking country, (mention where you're from) its origin and, in case it's not obvious, an explanation why people call it that.

EDIT - This other question, mentioned as a possible duplicate in one of the comments, is about "rain without clouds" which is clearly different from "the simultaneous occurrence of rain and sunshine".

I'm not looking for lists. I'm looking for the most popular and traditional saying in the US, the UK, in Australia, etc. A saying most people will have heard at some time during their lifetime.

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    What term or saying do you have in your native language?
    – user 66974
    Jan 30 '20 at 22:35
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Feb 2 '20 at 3:00
43

Here is an excerpt from the results of a 2003 dialect survey in the United States (Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department):

What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining? [n = 10,691 respondents]

  • sunshower (34.29%)
  • the wolf is giving birth (0.04%)
  • the devil is beating his wife (6.43%)
  • monkey's wedding (0.16%)
  • fox's wedding (0.15%)
  • pineapple rain (0.03%)
  • liquid sun (0.74%)
  • I have no term or expression for this (55.15%)
  • other (3.02%)

So, in the US, a majority of people have no term to describe this phenomenon.

Source, including maps showing the geographic distribution of these responses.

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    It's perhaps worth noting that at least in much of the western US, this is so common as to be the norm, since other than winter storms, most rain is isolated showers.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 31 '20 at 18:56
  • Very interesting link.
    – Centaurus
    Feb 1 '20 at 0:07
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    Interesting to see (e) fox's wedding - this is also used in Marathi language in India, though I've never come across the phrase in English before.
    – Alok
    Feb 1 '20 at 0:32
  • 2
    Great answer, +1. Please avoid using code formatting for non-code text, however. It can interfere with alternative browsing technologies, e.g. screen-readers for the blind, and can make the site less accessible.
    – KRyan
    Feb 2 '20 at 1:00
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    @Alok 0.15% could just mean that these are recent immigrants literally using an idiom from India.
    – Peteris
    Feb 2 '20 at 10:29
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Sunshower appears to be a common term:

A sunshower or sun shower is a meteorological phenomenon in which rain falls while the sun is shining.

A sunshower is usually the result of accompanying winds associated with a rain storm sometimes miles away, blowing the airborne raindrops into an area where there are no clouds, therefore causing a sunshower.

The term used in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK.

(Wikipedia)

In South African English, a sunshower is referred to as a "monkey's wedding", a loan translation of the Zulu umshado wezinkawu, a wedding for monkeys.

(Wikipedia)

There’s a well-known version in the American South, at least among older people: “The devil’s behind his kitchen door beating his wife with a frying pan”, usually shortened just to “The devil’s beating his wife”.

(World Wide Words)

Strangely enough, a regional variant used in Tennessee appears to be that the Devil is kissing his wife (and why that would make her cry is anybody’s guess).

Historically Speaking)

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    More commonly it's the result of rain clouds right above where you are and the sun's rays hit the earth at an angle lower than 90 degrees. That's why we observe it more often in the morning or late afternoon rather than at noon.
    – Centaurus
    Jan 30 '20 at 22:57
  • I've edited the body of the question.
    – Centaurus
    Jan 31 '20 at 0:34
  • @Centaurus In that case, it wouldn't the "sunshower" of WP. Must be something else.
    – Kris
    Jan 31 '20 at 11:27
  • I'm South African and didn't know that we borrowed monkey's wedding from the isiZulu! Thanks :)
    – Restioson
    Feb 2 '20 at 10:10
  • sunshower was what it was always called every time I heard it mentioned as a kid in rural (southern NSW) Australia (60s and 70s), so I can certainly vouch for the term being used in Australia, as the first quote in the answer above suggests.
    – Glen_b
    Feb 3 '20 at 5:12
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In Hawaii, when the sun shines through a shower of rain, it’s called ‘liquid sunshine’. It’s a truly apt expression.

In my native Scotland, when rain falls from a clear blue sky, it’s called ‘lauchin’ rain’. It literally means, laughing rain. Doesn't happen very often,though.

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  • Please edit out the repeat part of your answer (see earlier above answer). Feb 1 '20 at 11:58
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In Brazil, some people call it the widow's wedding (casamento da viúva), denoting that it's a strange phenomenon. Also heard the expression fox's wedding (casamento da raposa), which is explained by a little tale, popular in some regions of the country.

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    Could we hear more about the tale for the fox's wedding?
    – rajah9
    Feb 1 '20 at 11:46
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In my native, Nigeria, when I was a kid, I was told that whenever rain is falling and sun is shinning at the same time, that an elephant is giving birth somewhere. I wonder how I believed this? I can't wait to tell my own kids too 😉

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I was born in India, as were my parents. Mum always called it “a foxes wedding and a monkeys dance” when there was heavy rain and sunshine at the same time. Also would look for the rainbow that accompanied this weather.

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"Serein" is a term in English, Meteorology argot, for

"rain falling from a cloudless sky"

Glossary of the American Meteorological Society

Quarterly Journal of the American Meteorological Society, July 22 1889

Monthly Weather Review, 1917

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    Your reference shows only a disputed French word (the discussion about it is in English). The expression 'rain falling from a cloudless sky' does not mandate that the sun be seen, and fits rather on the duplicate? thread. Feb 1 '20 at 12:02
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Orphan’s tears is one I’ve always heard but that could be a regional thing from the Midwest, I don’t know.

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This question made me scour more sites for getting more answers and I found these.

  1. Another version was recorded in 1893 in Inwards’ Weather Lore: “if it rains while the sun is shining the devil is beating his grandmother.”
  2. It's also referred as - “Someone’s mother is crying.” in India .
  3. Puerto Rico’s version is that it means “The Witch is getting Married.”
  4. Similar expressions exist in Arabic: “Satan is bathing (not beating!) his wife”
  5. In Argentina, I’ve heard that if there is a sunshower, a witch is being borne or will be borne.

Source: theidioms.com

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