raining cats and dogs

black-and-white photo of women hurrying across a street in rain

Women run from the shelter of Flinders Street Railway Station across the flooded streets, 1954. Photograph held in the Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Public domain.

After days of hot and humid weather, finally, came the rain … Plenty of it. Which made me pause and wonder when cats and dogs came into the picture.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates the phrase ‘to rain cats and dogs’ back to 1738, when Jonathan Swift uses it in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation. This is an ironic and satirical observation on the ‘art’ of conversation in certain circles of society, jokingly conceived as three handy dialogues that those lacking the ‘art’ can simply memorise. You would think that the language in a work like this would be well-established.

An older phrase, ‘to rain dogs and cats’, can — still according to the OED — be dated back to 1661.

Why cats and dogs? No-one knows.