Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,

Drown'd puppies, stinking sprats, all drench'd in mud,

Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood.

ON Tuesday evening at Scotch Corner, the raindrops were so large and so hard that the sploshes on the windscreen were as wide as dinner plates, and the hill down to Skeeby had become a running river with the water toppling over itself in cascades to reach the bottom.

“By, it’s been raining cats and dogs,” said a member of Richmond Probus club, flapping his umbrella dry, as he entered the cricket club where I was talking.

A colleague tweeted that it was “proper clattering it down” in Aycliffe, which gave a good indication of the noise of the rain and proved to be a literary allusion, while someone else said it was “stotting down”, which gave a feeling of the fury of the storm.

The rain analogy that I’ve never understood is about it coming down in stair-rods. A stair-rod was employed to keep the carpet at the back of the stair so it is straight and horizontal – which doesn’t work for pelting rain. Far better to say it’s coming down in bannister-poles.

But “cats and dogs” is the strangest of rain-related expressions.

It first appears in a play written by Richard Brome in 1653: “"It shall raine…dogs and polecats".

In 1710, Jonathan Swift used the idea of the streets being awash with dead bodies of animals in his satirical poem A Description of a City Shower (above).

(In that poem, he also says “spouts run clattering o’er the roof”, which is undoubtedly what my colleague from Newton Aycliffe was referring to in his tweet.)

Swift returned to the idea in another satirical work, A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation of 1738: "I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.”

But why cats and dogs? There is an internetful of theories. From ancient times, a dog, or wolf, was the attendant of Odin, the Norse god of the storm, and there’s an old seafaring expression that “the cat has a gale in its tail” – so in a rainstorm, the cat is brings the wind and the dog is responsible for the rain.

Some say it is a reference to the fish and frogs that have been sucked up by waterspouts and showered down in droplets.

Perhaps it is from a Greek word “catadoxa”, which means “contrary to experience”. Did someone like Boris Johnson once say “it is raining catadoxa” meaning “it is raining like I have never witnessed before”?

Or there’s an old word “catadupe” which means “waterfall”. On Tuesday, as I drove down the hill into Skeeby it really was raining catadupes.

Most likely, as the poor people of Reeth are finding, a torrential downpour washes out all manner of debris, including the bodies of animals which had crept away quietly to die. In olden times after a storm, a street could have looked like it had been raining cats and dogs.

Ours is not the only language with strange rain expressions. The French apparently say that it is raining like a cow is trying to relieve itself, which must be a sudden, violent downburst, whereas the Welsh say “it is raining old women and sticks”, which is quite inexplicable.