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Here comes the rain again…

With it no longer being ‘odds on’ for a barbecue summer in the UK this year, it’s time for the British to get back to talking about their favourite subject: the rain. OUP UK Publicity Manager Juliet Evans has been speaking to Jeremy Butterfield, author of Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, about different ways we talk about rain, in English as well as in other languages.


Language expert Jeremy Butterfield has been examining our fascination with the weather using the Oxford English Corpus, Oxford University Press’s database of over 2 billion words. ‘The Eskimos are commonly supposed to have dozens of words for snow (they haven’t, but it’s one of the most enduring language myths around),’ says Jeremy. ‘But even supposing it were true, English speakers could play them at their own game when it comes to rain.’

Describing your average British Bank Holiday weather:
• It’s pouring
• It’s pelting down
• It’s raining cats and dogs
• It’s bucketing it down
• It’s raining pitchforks

‘People have come up with several explanations for the cats and dogs image,’ comments Jeremy. ‘One suggestion is that it is a corruption of the obsolete French word catad(o)upe, meaning ‘waterfall’; another peddles the idea that cats and dogs sheltering in the thatch of houses were washed out by heavy storms; another that because of poor drains dead cats and dogs could be seen floating down the streets during rainstorms, making it look as if they had fallen from the sky.’

‘However, if it can pitchforks, why not cats and dogs? Many other languages use animal imagery too. And the Welsh language even goes one step further, by bringing in humans: Bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn (‘It’s raining old women and sticks’)!’

How to talk about the rain in other languages:

Spanish
Caen chuzos de punta
It’s raining sticks tip downwards (literally, ‘sticks are falling tip downwards’)

French
Il pleut des crapauds et des chats
It’s raining toads and cats

Il pleut des vaches
It’s raining cows

Il pleut des clous
It’s raining nails

Brazilian Portuguese
Chove pra cachorro
It’s raining ‘for the dog’

German
Es regnet Bindfäden
It’s raining pieces of string

Welsh
Bwrw cyllyll a ffyrc
It’s raining knives and forks

Bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn
It’s raining old women and sticks

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2 Responses to “Here comes the rain again…”
  1. Cassie says:

    I love the Welsh phrases! How on earth are those pronounced?

  2. I’m going to start using “It’s raining old women and sticks.” I’ll be prepared for rain and perplexed listeners.

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