‘if it should rain pottage, he would want his dish’ and variants

The proverbial phrase if it should rain pottage (or porridge), he (or I, etc.) would want his (or my, etc.) dish, and its many variants, are used of a person who is characterised by bad luck or by an inability to be organised or prepared.

The earliest occurrences of the phrase if it should rain pottage (or porridge), he (or I, etc.) would want his (or my, etc.) dish, and of its variants, are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From The First Parte, of The Eyghth liberall Science: Entituled, Ars adulandi, The Arte of Flatterie (London: Printed by Richard Jones, 1579), by the English playwright and satirist Ulpian Fulwell (?1546-?1586):

The Lady Fortune […] was blindly in bestowing of her guiftes, in such sorte, as I haue seene the Préest in time past, deale holy bread, shée gaue to much to very many, but ynough to none, Superfluity sate alofte, but Sacietie was shut in prison, and as did the rest, so did I holde out my hand for her beneuolence. I gaped wide, but other snatched vp the benefits before they fel to the groūd, I stretched forth my arme & opened my hand, but I coulde finger nothing, shée crossed my hand with many bare blessinges, but the giftes fell on both sides of my fist and none right: it rayned pottage, but I wanted a dish.

2-: From A Collection of English Proverbs Digested into a convenient Method for the speedy finding any one upon occasion; with Short Annotations. Whereunto are added Local Proverbs with their Explications, Old Proverbial Rhythmes, Less known or Exotick Proverbial Sentences, and Scottish Proverbs (Cambridge: Printed by John Hayes, Printer to the University, for W. Morden, 1670), by the English naturalist and theologian John Ray (1627-1705):

If it should rain pottage, he would want his dish.

3-: From Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British (London: Printed for B. Barker; and A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch, 1732), by the British physician Thomas Fuller (1654-1734):

If it should rain Porridge, he’d want a Dish.

A colourful variant of the phrase occurs in the following passage from A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, according to the Most Polite Mode and Method now used at Court, and in the Best Companies of England (London: Printed for B. Motte, and C. Bathurst, 1738), by the Irish satirist, poet and Anglican cleric Jonathan Swift (1667-1745):

Lady Answerall. But, Mr. Neverout, I wonder why such a handsome, strait, young Gentleman as you, do not get some rich Widow.
Lord Sparkish. Strait! Ay, strait as my Leg, and that’s crooked at Knee.
Mr. Neverout. Faith, Madam, if it rain’d rich Widows, none of them would fall upon me. Egad, I was born under a Threepenny Planet, never to be worth a Groat.




The Australian-English variants of the phrase frequently use either soup or pea-soup:

1-: Early occurrences with the noun soup:

1.1-: From Echoes of Sport, by ‘The Vagrant’, published in The Maitland Daily Mercury (Maitland, New South Wales) of Saturday 12th January 1895:

A few days before his death, Jack Regan, the jockey, was referring to his friends about his bad luck in not being able through weakness to accept the offer of a good mount he had made to him, and, says he, “Why if it rained soup everybody else would get a spoon, while I should have to use a fork!” The mount which Regan had to relinquish was on Prodigal in the Steeplechase, but the horse fell during the race and broke his neck.

1.2-: From one of the unconnected paragraphs making up Aboriginalities, published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 25th May 1901:

They were all growling about their bad luck, when Stingo Bill remarked: “If it was to rain turtle-soup I’d be sure to have nothing about me but a —— fork!”

1.3-: From Turf Jottings, published in The Referee (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 26th July 1905:

The following from the Melbourne “Sporting Judge” about Bookmaker Kelly’s luck is decidedly good:—“Some time ago, after Kelly had won a race or two, the conversation among the downwayites and kerbstoners in the vicinity of the Victorian Club turned on the good luck which pursues some people. “Bli me,” ejaculated a well-known character, “Kelly’s luck is such that if we here in Bourke-street were suffering from the sorest straits of a famine, and the Lord caused it to rain soup, we’d all have forks and Kelly would have the luck to get a spoon?”

2-: Early occurrences with the noun pea-soup:

2.1-: From an advertisement published in The Referee (Sydney, New South Wales) of Thursday 2nd November 1933:

(By Tom Ellis, Editor of “Best Bets,” and the Turf’s most noted exponent of common-sense)

“OH, I’ve got no luck! If it was raining pea soup I would only have a pitchfork!”
The speaker had a grouch against himself and all mankind. Yet, he is but one of thousands. “I have no luck.”

2.2-: From “The Referee’s” Page for Bowlers, by ‘Boomerang’, published in The Referee (Sydney, New South Wales) of Thursday 22nd April 1937:

Daily you meet the man who tells you that if he took a drink out of an open tap the only worm in the reservoir would pass down his throat, or that if it were raining pea soup he would have a knife and fork in his hand at the time.

2.3-: From a letter by a person signing themself ‘Ack Tock’, published in The Western Mail (Perth, Western Australia) of Thursday 3rd June 1943:

“Spinning ’Em.”

DEAR “Martingale,”—Passing a military camp “somewhere in Australia” at an undisclosed time, I observed a goodly company in a secluded spot amid the trees. As if by word of command all heads suddenly looked up. Two small dark objects somersaulting lazily appeared above the heads of the crows. As I craned over the fence for a better view, everyone seemed interested in the ground.
“Blast the micks,” cried a bloke near the centre, “if it was raining pea soup I’d be out with a fork.”
Then I knew. The national game was in progress, in spite of the powers that be.

2.4-: From Railway Review, published in the Greenough Sun (Mullewa, Western Australia) of Thursday 14th September 1950:

If it was raining pea soup young Tommy Mason would have a knife and fork fair dinkum! Tommy had only just returned to work after one accident received playing football when he goes and collects again playing the national game. His latest misfortune is a broken collar bone and he will be unfit for work for at least two months.

3-: Colourful Australian variants:

3.1-: From Sowers of the Wind: A Novel of the Occupation of Japan (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1954), by the Australian author Thomas Arthur Guy Hungerford (1915-2011):

“Damn all!” the man called Nocker grunted. “If it was rainin’ palaces I’d get hit on the head with the handle of the dunny door.”

3.2-: From The Yarns of Billy Borker (Sydney: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965), by the Australian author Frank Hardy (1917-1994):

I’m so unlucky that if it was raining mansions I’d get hit on the head with a Mallee lavatory.

3.3-: From No Medals for Aphrodite (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1970), by the Australian author Richard Beilby (1918-1989):

“Gawd, we’re an unlucky battalion, we are. If it was rainin’ virgins we’d be washed away with a poofta, dinkum!”

3.4-: From Bazza brings it up, the account of the official Australian world premiere of The Adventures of Barry McKenzie *—account by Sandra Hall, published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 21st October 1972:

Barry Crocker plays him [i.e., Barry McKenzie] as a walking accident. The deadpan feeling of the comic strip has become all vulnerable, big-eyed and ingenuous. “If it was raining sheilas,” he says in the producer, Phillip Adams’ favorite line, “I’d be washed down the drain with a poofter.” And it’s because he never will realise his ambition to find a jam tart who bangs like a dunny door that the well-prepared (or warned) opening night audience loved him.

[* The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) is an Australian comedy film by the Australian film director Bruce Beresford (born 1940), starring the Australian comedian Barry Crocker (born 1935), telling the story of an Australian yobbo on his travels to the United Kingdom. Barry ‘Bazza’ McKenzie was originally a character created by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries (born 1934) for a cartoon strip in the British satirical magazine Private Eye. (Barry Humphries also created and interpreted Dame Edna Everage, a fictional character satirising the average Australian housewife.)]

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