A fancy word for rain

cats and dogs

When something causes or brings about something else, we say it precipitates the latter. However, when it rains, we also term it precipitation. What is the connection here?

Precipitate comes from a Latin root that means to fall or hasten. There is a sense of suddenness, force or severity. We can see from this why rain is termed precipitation,  as rain usually has a sense of suddenness about it and seems to fall from the sky with intensity (there is also a connection here to the word precipice). As for the “bringing about” meaning, this comes from the same sense of suddenness, but without the falling connotation.  If my calling the boss a moron precipitates my getting fired, there is the implication that my action hastened along the end result. And no, I’m not calling my boss a moron. Bad example. I hope he doesn’t read this.

Speaking of rain, why do we sometimes  say it’s “raining cats and dogs?” According to British linguist Gary Martin, it likely originated in a poem of Jonathan Swift’s (he of Gulliver’s Travels), wherein he describes rain so heavy that it washed drowned cats and dogs down the street. This is an allusion to the poor sanitation practices of the time, as Swift often criticized London society. In other words, the filthy street conditions precipitated the precipitation of felines and canines.


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