Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Over There, the Rain Beats Down Old Ladies with Ugly Sticks

 

In English, we say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Explanations for why we say this are numerous, and all fairly dubious. In other lands, other stuff falls from the sky during heavy storms. In Croatia, axes; in Bosnia, crowbars (I’m sensing a pattern here); in France and Sweden, nails. In several countries, heavy rain falls like pestle onto mortar. In English, it may also rain like pitchforks or darning needles. While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god) may not be surprising, a few idioms kick it up a notch (so to speak), describing the rain as falling dung.

And then there are the old ladies falling out of skies. Sometimes with sticks, sometimes without. Sometimes old ladies beaten with ugly sticks. The Flemish say, het regent oude wijven — it’s raining old women. The Afrikaners, more savagely, arm the old women with clubs: ou vrouens met knopkieries reën. Yes, good ol’ knobkerries — ugly sticks, indeed! Afrikaners and the Flemish speak variants of Dutch, so it’s not surprising they share cataracts of crones, armed or not. Why the Welsh also share them is more of a mystery, but yn’ Gymraeg, again we find old ladies raining with sticks: mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn. Traveling to Norway, we find the outpouring of old ladies beaten with the ugly sticks: det regner trollkjerringer — it’s raining she-trolls.

Why old ladies? Why cobblers’ apprentices, as in the Danish idiom, det regner skomagerdrenge? Expressions describing small reptiles and amphibians raining from the sky (toads, snakes, lizards) arguably have a physical basis. While skeptics say it’s impossible for these animals to actually fall from the sky, animals have been known to swarm in times of heavy rain:

Storms of frogs and fish falling from the sky! For at least 200 years, newspapers and books have published accounts of people being pelted by huge numbers of frogs and fish coming down during rainstorms, or even sometimes out of a clear blue sky.

In 1901, a rainstorm in Minneapolis, MN produced frogs to a depth of several inches, so that travel was said to be impossible. Fish famously fell from the sky in Singapore in 1861, and again over a century later in Ipswich, Australia in 1989. Residents in southern Greece awoke one morning in 1981 to find that a shower of frogs had blanketed their village. Golfers in Bournemouth, England found herring all over their course after a light shower in 1948. In 1901, a huge rainstorm doused Tiller’s Ferry, SC, and covered it with catfish as well as water, to the point that fish were found swimming between the rows of a cotton field. In 1953, Leicester, MA was hit with a downpour of frogs and toads of all sorts, even choking the rain gutters on the roofs of houses. The stories go on and on: More frogs in Missouri in 1873 and Sheffield, England in 1995, and more fish in Alabama in 1956.

A popular theory is that these animals are picked up by waterspouts, then transported en masse, until they fall, unharmed. How a waterspout would do this without scattering or pulverizing its passengers is something of a mystery, so perhaps the more plausible explanation is animal swarms coinciding with heavy rains. In a heavy-enough rain, even fish may swarm on what would otherwise be dry land.

The Flemish sometimes also say it rains young cats (het regent kattenjongen). The German, young dogs (Es regnet junge Hunde). Somehow, we got both. Cats spit and hiss. Dogs howl. A good storm does all three. My theory — worth about as much as Anne Elk’s brontosaurus theory, but perhaps no less than other theories proposed for our idiom over the years — is that, much as English is a mongrel language, our idiom for rain is a mongrel idiom, the progeny of likening a hard rain to cats on the one hand, and dogs on the other.

Finland and Estonia’s idioms are even more mysterious. In Estonia, they say, sajab nagu oavarrest — it’s raining like from a beanstalk. In Finland, Sataa kuin Esterin perseestä — it’s raining like from Esther’s, um, fanny. The Wiktionary speculates,

Urban legend has it that “Esteri” was the Goddess of rain in pre-Christian Finland, but that’s naturally false, as the name is of Biblical origin. [It’s the Finnish form of “Esther”.]

One possible source of the saying is the Esteri-branded water pumps used by firebrigades.

The Esteri fire pump (palopumppu) is still a going concern, produced by Veikko Nummela Oy (Finnish quality and reliability!). You can ogle the beauties here, if you like. Does their comeliness surpass that of other pumps, as Esther’s did of her rivals? Perhaps. Although perhaps you have to be a fireman to see it.

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There are 11 comments.

  1. Judge Mental Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: perseestä

    *Checks personal dictionary of dirty words in other languages. Adds “um, fanny” to Estonian section.*

    • #1
    • August 30, 2019, at 11:47 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Wow! So many possibilities, Midge! Who knew?!

    • #2
    • August 30, 2019, at 11:56 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Percival Thatcher

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god)

    … on a flat rock. Which makes sense, if you have ever been near a cow answering nature’s call.

    • #3
    • August 30, 2019, at 12:13 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  4. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god)

    … on a flat rock. Which makes sense, if you have ever been near a cow answering nature’s call.

    I dunno. On well-trodden mire, the effect is, um, splashier.

    • #4
    • August 30, 2019, at 12:43 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Percival Thatcher

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god)

    … on a flat rock. Which makes sense, if you have ever been near a cow answering nature’s call.

    I dunno. On well-trodden mire, the effect is, um, splashier.

    On a flat rock, there is no absorption, only reflection. And it isn’t a leisurely tinkle. More of a flat-out whoosh. Impressive if you have enough perspective to appreciate it.

    • #5
    • August 30, 2019, at 1:18 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Stad Thatcher

    In the South, we say, “Best git inside. Pert near drown, it be rainin’ so hard.”

    • #6
    • August 30, 2019, at 2:47 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god)

    … on a flat rock. Which makes sense, if you have ever been near a cow answering nature’s call.

    I dunno. On well-trodden mire, the effect is, um, splashier.

    On a flat rock, there is no absorption, only reflection. And it isn’t a leisurely tinkle. More of a flat-out whoosh. Impressive if you have enough perspective to appreciate it.

    You want to be some distance away…

    • #7
    • August 30, 2019, at 4:55 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Percival Thatcher

    OldDanRhody (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god)

    … on a flat rock. Which makes sense, if you have ever been near a cow answering nature’s call.

    I dunno. On well-trodden mire, the effect is, um, splashier.

    On a flat rock, there is no absorption, only reflection. And it isn’t a leisurely tinkle. More of a flat-out whoosh. Impressive if you have enough perspective to appreciate it.

    You want to be some distance away…

    A requisite component of “the proper perspective” is to be out of range.

    • #8
    • August 30, 2019, at 5:26 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the August 2019 Group Writing Theme: Raining Cats and Dogs. Our September theme is “Autumn Colors.” There are plenty of dates available. Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #9
    • August 30, 2019, at 6:00 PM PST
    • Like
  10. LC Member
    LC

    In Cambodia, we say phlieng p’youh tuk p’youh dei” 

    literal translation: rain storm water storm land.

    • #10
    • August 30, 2019, at 7:46 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. BastiatJunior Member

    This post is definitely worth printing out.

    • #11
    • September 1, 2019, at 10:49 AM PST
    • 1 like