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It’s Raining Cats, Dogs, and Troll Women

Jan 29, 2016 08:57PM ● By Julie Ross

Anyone else growing weary of gray skies, drizzle, downpours and wet dogs? (Yes, I know we need the rain. I live here.) However, I am also getting tired of the same old “need the rain” comments. The other day during an impressive downpour, a friend used a phrase I haven’t come across in quite a while: “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

I was wondering how the saying originated and was unable to find a satisfactory answer. Explanations varied. One theory from the 1500s surmised that domesticated animals slipped off and/or fell through thatched roofs during stormy weather. That hardly seems plausible. I’m not sure what dogs, in particular, would be doing up there. Another theory is that violent rainfalls caused olden-day-style storm drains to back up, spilling out the carcasses of various animals. That is horrible and, besides, floodwater washing dogs and cats down the street is hardly the same as dogs and cats falling from the sky. The answer I like best suggests the notion comes from Norse mythology, where cats were believed to bring the rain, and dogs were associated with wind. Much better.

In the course of looking into the etymology of this idiom, I learned that in other parts of the country it is sometimes “raining pitchforks and hoe handles,” or in another variation on the farm implement theme, “raining pitchforks and bullfrogs.” Because pitchforks, hoe handles and bullfrogs are quite different types of precipitation than dogs and cats, I was curious as to what type of precipitation fell from the sky in other countries. 

In South Africa and Namibia, it rains “old women with clubs.” Ouch. During heavy rainfall in Ireland, one might remark, “It’s throwing cobbler’s knives.” In Denmark, “Det regner skomagerdenge,” or “It’s raining shoemakers’ apprentices.” (What?)

In the Faroe Islands, they say it’s raining pilot whales. That sounds like some storm! In Greece, there are chair legs falling from the clouds. In Brazil, it’s frogs’ beards. (Frogs have beards?) 

My favorite among them all, though, is the Norwegian description of a heavy rainfall: “Det regner trollkjerringer.” It’s raining troll women. How delightfully disturbing.

I will close with a new response for you to use the next time someone in line at the grocery store tells you “we need the rain.” Borrow a saying from Serbia and inform them “The rain falls and kills the mice.” That should make them think twice about talking to you again.

Stay dry. It’s a wet one out there, but hey; I’ve heard we need the rain.

You can reach Julie at [email protected]





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