"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


An idiom is a phrase characteristic of a particular language, that cannot necessarily be fully understood from the separate meanings of the individual words.

A classic example of the idiom is the description of heavy rain in various languages. For example, in Afrikaans it rains old women with knobkerries (clubs).

In Danish it rains shoemakers' apprentices, the Dutch get pipe stems, the Greeks suffer from falling chair legs and the Icelanders receive fire and brimstone. In Catalan it rains boats and barrels while the Chinese have to suffer dog-poo.

In English we often say it's raining cats and dogs. The Germans also find it's raining young dogs. At one time (before stair rods virtually disappeared) the English also suffered from it raining stair rods while rods also fell on the Swedes (along with ladles).

In France and Poland it rains frogs while I seem to recall from my French lessons that nails and taxis were also likely to plummet from the skies!

Instead of taxis the Slovaks find its raining tractors. The Czecks are less ambitious and only receive wheelbarrows.

The Germans say it's raining cobbler boys whilst in Ireland it's throwing cobblers knives. The Welsh get forks along with their knives. The Portuguese get rained on with penknives and, most remarkably, toads' beards. In Spain it's even raining husbands!

Perhaps my favourite is the Norwegian idiom - it's raining female trolls.

And then, with Welsh, we are back to were we started with Afrikaans since it rains old ladies and sticks...


  1. The weatherman would have a field day with this!

    I've never heard of frogs or taxis, but nails aren't unlikely. However, our usual rainfall is a lot of rope.

    I agree with you--the Norwegians have the best (worse?) kind of rainfall! (The rest are pretty interesting, though.) Do you know what their origins are?

  2. Never heard of it raining rods or ladies here actually! It does however sometimes rain "little nails" (the kind of rain that feels sharp and hard)

  3. I don't know the origins of any of them really though I suppose heavy rain looks a bit like stair rods coming down. If you haven't heard of taxis I may be misleading folk with that one!.

  4. I have to apologise. Just now as I heard rain hitting the windows again after a period of colder weather, it suddenly struck me that we DO compare rain to rods, we just put the words in different order so that's why it didn't sound familiar when translated. We have both a noun "spöregn" and a verb "spöregna" ("spö" translates rod or whip)...