We’re joking, of course. This is really NOT our chunk of the day. Only students of English and people who haven’t lived in the UK since about 1950 actually use this idiom – and it probably wasn’t even used that much back in the Fifties either! However, as London has now returned to normal after the freak snowstorms we wrote about last week and the rain is pouring down outside, while the temperature has dropped to 5 or 6 degrees, it seems like a good moment to talk about heavy rain, language learning … and a bit of gentle laughter directed at France!
When we tell our learners that no-one actually says raining cats and dogs, they are often a bit disappointed; you might even say that we burst their bubble! I can understand that because the idea of raining cats and dogs is truly odd. It’s like something Roald Dahl would invent . . . and I guess because of that, it’s easy to remember as a bit of language. This should be a reminder to teachers and students that linking language to images in our head can help us learn.
Apart from raining cats and dogs, there are still plenty of other images you can see in our descriptions of rain. Most involve the idea of someone in the sky: it could be God or a weather fairy, but I think when it comes to British weather, it is probably some evil clown. We say it’s pouring down or it’s bucketing down (imagine someone deliberately emptying a bottle or bucket of water on your head); or we might say it’s chucking it down (picture someone throwing water at you). Of course, we have a more disgusting image – and we have a very common way of saying it’s raining heavily, which is it’s pissing (it) down (literally someone is going to the toilet on us!!). In addition, when we feel a few drops of rain, we sometimes say it’s spitting (down). Of course, after all that, you may prefer to stick with raining cats and dogs!
All this talk of rain should remind you that if you come to the UK at any time of year, you should bring a brolly (umbrella) or a raincoat, because we guarantee it will rain, and the rain can last for hours in a classic British drizzle (light rain), thus allowing the French and others to laugh at our terrible weather.
However, let’s not forget that every now and then it actually chucks it down even more over in France. A couple of years ago, for example, hours, even days, of the French Open tennis were washed out (cancelled because of the rain)! And how pleased some UK newspapers were! That’s because the Wimbledon Centre Court now has a roof, while the French don’t!
Given the current state of UK-EU relations, this might be seen as one more example of how useless the Europeans are, but that would be conveniently forgetting that the UK is still waiting for the kind of high-speed rail network that the French have had for forty years – and we’re now asking the French to build our nuclear power plants! And, of course, it’s pouring down here too!! But hey! At least we have a roof at Wimbledon.
- What idioms for weather do you have in your language?
- Do you use images to try and remember language?
- Have you ever planned to do something or go somewhere that was then washed out?