Very unpleasant Weather, or the Old saying verified
“Raining Cats, Dogs, & Pitchforks.”!!! (1835)
by George Cruikshank (1792-1878)
image: Yale Digital Collection Center
On 9th November 1861, Notes & Queries (London) published Raining Cats and Dogs, written by a certain A. De Morgan in answer to a correspondent who had mentioned the formal analogy between the English phrase raining cats and dogs and “raining κατα δοξας […] the natural Romaic [= modern Greek vernacular] expression for raining extraordinarily” (De Morgan made an error about the origin of the devil to pay):
Raining Cats and Dogs—The derivation κατα δοξας [= kata doxas] will not do for the whole phrase which, when I was a boy, was “cats and dogs, and pitchforks with their points downwards.”
The phrase seems to be a simple monster of comparison, like “blowing great guns.”
If we do not look after a proverb, it is sure to be cut down, if it will bear shortening. What has become of the rest of “tit for tat”? When I first heard the saying, it ran thus:—
“Tit for tat,
Butter for fat;
If you kill my dog,
I’ll kill your cat.”
But I can find nobody now-a-days who remembers having heard the whole.
Again, “the devil to pay,” used to end with “and no pitch hot”: showing that the word pay is used in the nautical sense.
I heard an old gentleman, many years ago, use it thus in describing the mode of getting up the guards for parade when he was young, in the days of maximum foolery.
To dress up soldiers, one by one, would have been too expensive for the poor men. So a dozen or more would sit on a bench; and while one man would go down the rank with a razor, another would powder the wigs, a third adjust the pigtails, &c., &c.; and at last, said my informant, “in came a man with the pipe-clay, and paid all their breeches.” I think all this was done for a penny a man.
Some sayings must go out by their mere length. Nobody now hears the following, though temperance may have helped to drive it out:—
“He who buys land, buys stones;
He who buys meat, buys bones;
He who buys eggs, buys shells;
He who buys ale, nothing else.”
A shortened proverb may be thereby altered. I believe the apparently selfish saying—“Everyone for himself”—is only abbreviation of “Everyone for himself is care for all”; which, thus put, is as good as “Every one mend one.”
Again, we have the “eye of the master,” which seems to counsel everyone not to neglect overlooking generally. Very good advice, but not what was intended. It is “The eye of the master is worth both his hands”: he had better overlook his workmen than work too much himself.
Again—“Fight dog, fight bear”—seems to be merely a recommendation to go stoutly to work. But the old ending is, “the devil part you”; and it seems to mean that when two quarrelsome persons fall foul of each other, no one but a lover of mischief would set them free to annoy their peaceable neighbours.
A. De Morgan.