135. Raining Animals

“It’s raining cats and dogs” – Do native speakers of English often use this idiom to describe heavy rain or do they use different expressions? Also, is it really possible that animals can fall down from the sky like rain?

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Introduction
What do people really say when they’re talking about heavy rainstorms?
Is it really possible for animals to rain down from the sky? What are the explanations of this phenomenon?
What is the origin of the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs?”
What other idioms about heavy rain exist in other countries and languages?
What would happen to Luke if he was struck by lightning while recording an episode of the podcast? Would he just be electocuted to death, or would he become some kind of podcasting super-hero? (probably the former option)

In this episode, I discuss all of these questions, while a thunderstorm passes overhead and the rain beats down on the roof of my apartment. Listen, and please add your comments below.

How’s the weather where you are, while you listen to this?
What idiom do you use in your language to describe heavy rain?
Do you have any stories about animals falling from the sky?
We’d like to know about them!

Extracts from Wikipedia
I read a few extracts from the wikipedia page for ‘raining animals’ in this episode. Below you can read those extracts. Time codes are also given in square brackets [15.42] – these indicate the times at which I say these things in the episode.

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_of_animals

[15:42]

Rain of animals

Raining animals is a rare meteorological phenomenon in which flightless animals “rain” from the sky. Such occurrences have been reported in many countries throughout history. One hypothesis offered to explain this phenomenon is that strong winds traveling over water sometimes pick up creatures such as fish or frogs, and carry them for up to several miles.
[16:10]

[17:41]
However, this primary aspect of the phenomenon has never been witnessed or scientifically tested.
[17:48]

[17:55]

Explanations

Sometimes the animals survive the fall, suggesting the animals are dropped shortly after extraction. Several witnesses of raining frogs describe the animals as startled, though healthy, and exhibiting relatively normal behavior shortly after the event.
[18:13]

 

[22:00]
In some incidents, however, the animals are frozen to death or even completely encased in ice. There are examples where the product of the rain is not intact animals, but shredded body parts. Some cases occur just after storms having strong winds, especially during tornadoes.
[22:22]

[23:35]
However, there have been many unconfirmed cases in which rainfalls of animals have occurred in fair weather and in the absence of strong winds or waterspouts.
[23:46]

[24:00]
The English language idiom, “It is raining cats and dogs” (referring to a heavy downpour), is of uncertain etymology, and there is no evidence that it has any connection to the “raining animals” phenomenon.
[24:13]

[24:52]
This is a regular occurrence for birds, which can get killed in flight, or stunned and then fall (unlike flightless creatures, which first have to be lifted into the air by an outside force).
[25:05]

[25:56]
Sometimes this happens in large groups, for instance, the blackbirds falling from the sky in Beebe, Arkansas, United States on December 31, 2010. It is common for birds to become disoriented (for example, because of bad weather or fireworks) and collide with objects such as trees or buildings, killing them or stunning them into falling to their death.
[26:22]

[27:02]
The number of blackbirds killed in Beebe is not spectacular considering the size of their congregations, which can be in the millions.
[27:11]

[27:32]
The event in Beebe, however, captured the imagination and led to more reports in the media of birds falling from the sky across the globe, such as in Sweden and Italy, though many scientists claim such mass deaths are common occurrences but usually go unnoticed.
[27:50]

[28:36]
French physicist André-Marie Ampère was among the first scientists to take seriously accounts of raining animals. He tried to explain rains of frogs with a hypothesis that was eventually refined by other scientists.
[28:51]

[29:02]
Speaking in front of the Society of Natural Sciences, Ampère suggested that at times frogs and toads roam the countryside in large numbers, and that the action of violent winds can pick them up and carry them great distances.
[29:18]

[30:30]
More recently, a scientific explanation for the phenomenon has been developed that involves tornadic waterspouts.
[30:38]

[31:31]
Waterspouts are capable of capturing objects and animals and lifting them into the air. Under this theory, waterspouts or tornados transport animals to relatively high altitudes, carrying them over large distances. The winds were capable of lifting the animals over a relatively wide area and allow them to fall in a concentrated fashion in a localized area.  More specifically, some tornadoes can completely suck up a pond, letting the water and animals fall some distance away in the form of a “rain of animals”.
[32:06]

[33:54]
This hypothesis appears supported by the type of animals in these rains: small and light, usually aquatic, it’s also supported by the fact that the rain of animals is often preceded by a storm. However, the theory does not account for how all the animals involved in each individual incident would be from only one species, and not a group of similarly-sized animals from a single area.
[34:20]

[34:45]
In the case of birds, storms may overcome a flock in flight, especially in times of migration.
[34:59]

[35:10]
The image to the right shows an example where a group of bats is overtaken by a thunderstorm. The image shows how the phenomenon could take place in some cases. In the image, the bats are in the red zone, which corresponds to winds moving away from the radar station, and enter into a mesocyclone associated with a tornado (in green).
[35:34]

[35:44]
These events may occur easily with birds in flight. In contrast, it is harder (here we have mistake in audio, should be harder not easier) to find a plausible explanation for rains of terrestrial animals. The enigma persists despite scientific studies.
[35:56]

[36:20]
Sometimes, scientists have been incredulous of extraordinary claims of rains of fish

For example, in the case of a rain of fish in Singapore in 1861, French naturalist Francis de Laporte de Castelnau explained that the supposed rain took place during a migration of walking catfish, which are capable of dragging themselves over the land from one puddle to another. Thus, he argued that the appearance of fish on the ground immediately after a rain was easily explained, as these animals usually move over soft ground or after a rain.
[37:18]

[38:11]

Occurrences

Fish

  • Singapore, February 22, 1861
  • Olneyville, Rhode Island, May 15, 1900
  • Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, July 1, 1903
  • Marksville, Louisiana, October 23, 1947
  • Kerala, India, February 12, 2008
  • Bhanwad, Jamnagar, India, October 24, 2009
  • Lajamanu, Northern Territory, Australia, February 25 and 26, 2010,
  • Loreto, Agusan del Sur, Philippines, January 13, 2012

Frogs and toads

  • Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, June 2009 (occurrences reported throughout the month)
  • Rákóczifalva, Hungary, 18–20 June 2010 (twice)

Others

  • Unidentified animal, which was thought to be a cow fell in California ripped to tiny pieces, August 1, 1869
  • Jellyfish fell from the sky in Bath, England, in 1894
  • Spiders fell from the sky in Salta Province, Argentina on April 6, 2007.
  • Worms dropped from the sky in Jennings, Louisiana, on July 11, 2007
  • According to a video, spiders fell from the sky in Santo Antônio da Platina, Brazil, on February 3, 2013. (However, it has been suggested as falling from a mass web between elevated poles.)

[40:17]

[42:22]

“Raining cats and dogs”

The English idiom “it is raining cats and dogs”, used to describe an especially heavy rain, is of unknown etymology, and is not necessarily related to the “raining animals” phenomenon. The phrase was used at least since the 17th century. A number of improbable folk etymologies have been put forward to explain the phrase
[42:47]

[43:08]

  • An “explanation” widely circulated by email claimed that in 16th-century Europe when peasant homes were commonly thatched, animals could crawl into the thatch to find shelter from the elements, and would fall out during heavy rain. However, there seems to be no evidence in support of either assertion.
    [43:28]

 

[45:56]

  • Drainage systems on buildings in 17th-century Europe were poor, and may have disgorged their contents during heavy showers, including the corpses of any animals that had accumulated in them. This occurrence is documented in Jonathan Swift’s 1710 poem ‘Description of a City Shower’, in which he describes “Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,/Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood.”
    [46:26]

 

[48:12]

  • “Cats and dogs” may be a corruption of the Greek word Katadoupoi, referring to the waterfalls on the Nile, possibly through the old French word catadupe (“waterfall”).
  • The Greek phrase “kata doksa”, which means “contrary to expectation” is often applied to heavy rain, but there is no evidence to support the theory that it was borrowed by English speakers.
    [48:38]

[49:08]
There may not be a logical explanation; the phrase may have been used just for its nonsensical humor value, like other equivalent English expressions.
[49:18]

[49:50]
Other languages have equally bizarre expressions for heavy rain.
[49:53]

‘Heavy Rain’ Idioms From Around The World (care of Wikipedia)
Other languages have equally bizarre expressions for heavy rain:[37][38]
Afrikaans: ou vrouens met knopkieries reen (“old women with clubs”)
Bengali: মুষলধারে বৃষ্টি পড়ছে musholdhare brishṭi poṛchhe (“in a stream of mallets”)
Bosnian: padaju ćuskije (“crowbars”)
Bosnian: lije ko iz kabla (“it’s pouring like from a bucket”)
Cantonese: “落狗屎” (“dog poo”)
Chinese: “倾盆大雨” (“its pouring out of basins”)
Catalan: Ploure a bots i barrals (“boats and barrels”)
Croatian: padaju sjekire (“axes dropping”)
Czech: padají trakaře (“wheelbarrows”)
Czech: leje jako z konve (“like from a watering can”)
Danish: det regner skomagerdrenge (“shoemakers’ apprentices”)
Dutch: het regent pijpenstelen (“pipe stems or stair rods”)
Dutch (Flemish): het regent oude wijven (“old women”)
Dutch (Flemish): het regent kattenjongen (“kittens”)
Faroese : Tað regnar av grind (“Pilot whales”)
Finnish: Sataa kuin Esterin perseestä (“It’s raining like from Esteri’s ass”)
French: il pleut comme vache qui pisse (“it is raining like a peeing cow”)
French: il pleut à sceaux (“it’s raining like from buckets”)
French: il pleut des hallebardes (“it is raining halberds”), clous (“nails”), or cordes (“ropes”)
German: Es regnet junge Hunde (“young dogs”) or Es schüttet wie aus Eimern (“like poured from buckets”)
Greek: βρέχει καρεκλοπόδαρα (“chair legs”)
Hindi: musaldhār bārish (“a stream of mallets”)
Hungarian: mintha dézsából öntenék (“like poured from a vat”)
Icelandic: Það rignir eins og hellt sé úr fötu (“like poured from a bucket”)
Italian: piove a catinelle (“poured from a basin”)
Latvian: līst kā no spaiņiem (“it’s raining like from buckets”)
Nepali: मुसलधारे झरी (“a stream of mallets”)
Norwegian: det regner trollkjerringer (“she-trolls”)
Polish: pada żabami (“frogs”)
Portuguese: está a chover canivetes (“penknives”)
Portuguese: Chove a potes (“It is raining by the pot load”)
Portuguese: Chove a cântaros (“It is raining by the jug load”)
Romanian: plouă cu broaşte (“frogs”)
Russian: льет как из ведра (“from a bucket”)
Spanish: están lloviendo chuzos de punta (“shortpikes/icicles point first” – not only is it raining a lot, but it’s so cold and windy that being hit by the drops hurts)
Spanish: está lloviendo a cántaros (“by the clay pot-full”)
Spanish: llueven sapos y culebras (“toads and snakes”)
Spanish (Argentina): caen soretes de punta (“pieces of dung head-first”)
Spanish (Venezuela): esta cayendo un palo de agua (“a stick of water is falling”)
Spanish (Colombia): “Estan lloviendo maridos” “Van a llover maridos” (It’s raining husbands, It will rain husbands)
Serbian: padaju sekire (“axes”)
Swedish: Det regnar smådjävlar (“It is raining little devils”)
Swedish: regnet står som spön i backen (“the rain stands like poles out of the ground”)
Turkish: bardaktan boşanırcasına (“like poured from a cup”)
Urdu: musladhār bārish (“a stream of mallets”)
Welsh: mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn (“old ladies and sticks”)

 

Song – Why Does It Always Rain on Me by Travis

Note: Red T-Shirt designed by my bro ;)

Get the Song

Click here to visit the Amazon page for “Travis: The Singles” where you can buy their album, or buy the song “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?”

Read the Lyrics
Click here to read the lyrics to “Why Does It Always Rain On Me” by Travis, and to read some comments about the song’s meaning.

Thanks for listening to the podcast. Thanks also for messages which are sent to me all the time (even during the recording of episodes). I carefully consider everything which is written to me. All the best and enjoy this episode, Luke

  • Anna

    Hi, I’m Polish and I’ve never heard of “it is raining frogs”, we’ve got it is raining “wooden tub”.
    I like very much Danish: det regner skomagerdrenge (“shoemakers’ apprentices”). I imagine that the ethymology is the following: apprentices cannot make good-quality shoes so they have holes through which it’s raining :), but it is only my guess.

  • Sasha from Moscow

    Thanks Luke, it’s a great podcast.

    I’ve heard the idiom about ‘cats and dogs’ but couldn’t imagine that someone really says so.

    We do have the bucket idiom in Russian.

    I think you’ve said ‘I hope it doesn’t’ in this podcast. I was sure that the English grammar doesn’t allow to use HOPE in negative sentences. I’d grateful if you could throw light on it!

  • Beata

    In polish –> Pour as cowl –> its word for word
    leje jak z cebra . I am in begin wey for adventure with english language .

  • Comments from Podomatic.com
    Thanks Luke for this episode and for all the efforts you make to help learners of English all over the world.In th previous episode you said you’ll do an episode about jokes.I hope you were not joking smiley I’ll be waiting for this! (379 days ago)
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    Very interesting and informative podcast! By the way, Luke, The famous British stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard was performing in Moscow the other day. The is the link to the article about his performance (my daughter also works for this nnewspaper, but she did not attend the show. The author of the article is her co-mate) mn.ru/moscow/20130618/349207416.html (381 days ago)
    Flag
    Luke i’m Frankie and i’m fine ;D , by the way i laughed a lot when you pronounced my surname xD (383 days ago)
    Flag
    Ok if Luke wishes so. But it’s at your own risk. I am not a native speaker…and I want you to know that I borrowed Luke’s podcast format with his kind permission…
    this is my last episode:
    ramonis.podomatic.com/entry/2013-06-15T13_05_13-07_00 Zdenek Lukas (384 days ago)
    Flag
    Tish pisshin et doon!(”It’s raining down hard!”) Scottish: (384 days ago)
    Flag
    *Zdenek’s (384 days ago)
    Flag
    Ps. That comment (below) was from Luke, and so is this one. Luke (384 days ago)
    Flag
    Thanks for the comments everyone.
    Zdeněk, great minds think alike, and yes it is annoying that comments here can’t be edited. I plan to move the podcast to Soundcloud.com soon. Hey, give us a link to Zdeněk English Podcast would you? I will deal with the text and audio you sent me soon… (384 days ago)
    Flag
    Very interesting episode, Luke. We do NOT say ” ploua cu broaste”(it’s raining frogs) in Romanian, but we do say ”ploua cu galeata” (bucket). Teodora Cimpean (385 days ago)
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    Why can’t I edit the comment? I made a mistake. Not “last ” episode but “latest”. This is our typical false friend :–/ sorry. Zdenek Lukas (385 days ago)
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    I loved this idea for an episode Luke. As a coincidence last week I recorded my last podcast about animal idioms and I mentioned it’s raining cats and dogs. I even dedicated some time to pondering about why is that cats come first in this expression (we know that idioms are linguistically fixed phrases so that we cannot say “It’s raining dogs and cats”.) but logically it should be the dogs falling out of the sky first, not the cats, simply because they tend to be heavier unless they are chihuahua dogs or some other kind of little pseudo-dogs.
    By the way, I have the same experience that all my students and also fellow English teachers (non-natives) remember this idiom and use it a lot.

    Thanks for recording this. I can confirm the expressions in Czech are correct and I am also fascinated by the variety of figurative metaphors across the whole world. I love the Norwegian, Polish and Swedish expressions the most.

    Zdenek Lukas (385 days ago)
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    Houses had thatched roofs with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, It’s raining cats and dogs. (385 days ago)
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    Polish: Lele jak z cebra “cebr” – pl.wiktionary.org/wiki/Plik:Wooden_bathtubs_for_children_and_infants_-_05.JPG (385 days ago)
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    Haha, I haven’t listened to this episode yet, I only scrolled down to find my native language and yeah, as I thought, noone use that phrase listed here ‘padać żabami’ smiley Well, I’ve found 102 examples of it in google. The Russian phrase is very similar to one we say in Poland though. Translated word by word – it’s pouring like from a bucket. Just like the way it is. (385 days ago)
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  • Villagers in west Sri Lanka have said they have been surprised and delighted by an unusual rainfall of small fish. – BBC news today

  • Ksenia

    It was absolutely fabulous to be listening to the rain on the background.
    And the piece about Japanese’s wrong interpretation of the Sex Machine song was very funny.
    I have learned so many new words thanks to the expressions from other languages!
    I very much liked the way you explained what a fetched roof is. It was clear and concise.
    By the way, Catalan is also spoken in Catalunya, quite a wast Spanish region including the Balears islands (Mallorca, Menorca etc.)
    The first time I read about raining animals in an article about a rain of fish in Honduras in the on-line magazine for learners of Spanish www.veintemundos.com/magazines/36-en/
    There is no clear explanation how does it happen every year.

  • Pingback: Teacher Luke’s lessons | Notes()

  • Hi, Luke,
    Interesting post, as always.
    I would like to point out something that you said about the expression in Catalan. The expression Ploure a bots i barrals (“boats and barrels”) is completely correct, but Catalan is the language of Catalonia, which capital is Barcelona, it is also spoken in the south of France because Rousillon (today the Department of Pyrénées-Orientales or Northern Catalonia) was once part of the Catalonia country but was lost to France in the Reaper’s war (1640-1652).
    Thank you, Luke.

  • Pablo

    Hey there, here’s Poland. I’ve never heard the expression “pada żabami”, but there is another one, very common: “leje jak z cebra” – “it’s pouring like from a giant bucket”.