Raining Cats and Dogs: Meaning of a Strange-Sounding Idiom

, Staff Writer
Updated May 21, 2021
raining cats and dogs meaning
    raining cats and dogs meaning
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If you're unfamiliar with the raining cats and dogs idiom, hearing or reading that phase must seem quite shocking. Fortunately, it's not terminology that's meant to be taken literally. Discover how to interpret "raining cats and dogs" meaning and learn about the possible origins of this very unusual-sounding figure of speech.

Raining Cats and Dogs Meaning

The phrase raining cats and dogs means that it is raining very hard. It is an idiom used to indicate that there is a torrential rainstorm going on. One would use this expression when it is raining very hard and heavily over an extended period of time.

Raining Cats and Dogs Origin

The origin of the expression "raining cats and dogs" is unknown. There are a few ideas about where the "raining cats and dogs" idiom came from, but no one knows for sure. Like many common expressions, this figurative phrase has been around for centuries. Thoughts on the origin of this phrase are speculative in nature.

  • Some theorize that the expression "raining cats and dogs" is linked to a Greek expression, cata doxa, which looks like "cats and dogs" but doesn't have any canine or feline-related denotative meaning. Instead, this expression means contrary to what one believes or has experienced. With that in mind, it certainly is unbelievable to fathom cats and dogs raining from the sky.
  • The phrase "raining cats and dogs" may also be linked to an Old English term, catadupe. This obsolete word, which sort of looks and sounds like "cats and dogs," actually meant "waterfall." So, it is feasible that the expression "cats and dogs" evolved from that term to describe water falling from the sky or rain so heavy that it resembles a waterfall.
  • This phrase could link to Norse mythology and beliefs about witches. In Norse mythology, dogs and wolves symbolized wind. Because witches were associated with cats and were believed to be active during heavy rain, cats came to symbolize rain for ancient sailors. With this symbolism in mind, dogs could symbolize wind and cats could symbolize rain.
  • Odin, the Norse god of storms, is said to have caused the sky to open up and pelt down cats (in the form of rain) and dogs (in the form of wind) as a way to exercise his wrath.
  • Some claim that, in olden times, dogs and cats would seek shelter in thatched roofs, then get washed out during rainstorms.

While it's impossible to know which, if any, of the above musings on the origin of the "raining cats and dogs" meaning might actually be true, it's certainly fun and interesting to speculate.


Literary References to Raining Cats and Dogs

There are many examples of idioms in literature. In the case of "raining cats and dogs," there are records of the exact phrase and similar wording in British literature as far back as the 17th century.

  • British poet Henry Vaughn referenced “dogs and cats rained in shower” in his 1651 poetry collection Olor Iscanus. This is the first known published use of an expression similar to the "raining cats and dogs" idiom.
  • British playwright Richard Brome penned a similar turn of phrase in City Witt, a comedy that he wrote in 1652. A line from City Witt promised, “It shall rain dogs and polecats.”
  • In Jonathan Swift's 1738 satire, the Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, the storyline includes a character who is concerned about the possibility that it could “rain cats and dogs.”

Sentence Examples With Raining Cats and Dogs

The "raining cats and dogs" idiom is commonly used in English language sentences, as are many other examples of figurative language.

  • Be sure to wear your raincoat to school; it's raining cats and dogs out there.
  • I had to exit the interstate because it started raining cats and dogs. The rain was so heavy that I couldn't see to drive.
  • We can't go kayaking today because it is supposed to start raining cats and dogs this afternoon.
  • I'm happy to be inside on the sofa since it is raining cats and dogs outside.
  • Our camping trip didn't go as planned because it was raining cats and dogs for most of the weekend.
  • It was raining cats and dogs earlier, but now the sun is shining and the weather is beautiful.
  • If it's raining cats and dogs when we get to the park, we can use the grill under the picnic shelter.

Raining Cats and Dogs Synonyms

There are some other ways to express the same idea as the "raining cats and dogs" idiom. Choose one of the options below instead of "raining cats and dogs," or to use in addition the expression so you can incorporate some variety into your writing.

  • deluge
  • downpour
  • drenching rain
  • driving rain
  • inundation
  • pelting rain
  • pouring rain
  • rainstorm
  • soaker
  • torrential rain

Using Idioms in Your Writing

Now that you're familiar with the "raining cats and dogs" meaning and the possible origins of this unique idiom, take the time to consider how you can use idioms in your own writing. Start by discovering how idioms can make your writing more interesting. Then, get to know some other idioms that relate to everyday occurrences and items. For example, learn about the origins of "beat around the bush." Then, discover what "when pigs fly" means. From there, explore idioms about money.