Occasionally I like to scan through a list of odds-and-ends trivia that appears on a website I sometimes visit. I was doing so today, when I came across one that read: On July, 2, 1843, (according to a story that ran in the Charleston Mercury newspaper, which then was republished in both the Times Picayune in New Orleans and the New York Evening Post) an alligator fell from the sky in Charleston, South Carolina, during a thunderstorm.
Upon reading it, the first thing that came to mind was the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs,” so I did a quick search to try and learn the origin of that saying. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find it.
Oh sure, there were various speculations. One was that it had to do with animal corpses that washed out of drainpipes during heavy rainstorms in 17th-Century Europe. Another explanation was that cats and dogs may be a corruption of the Greek word Katadoupoi, which refers to waterfalls on the Nile. Neither of these, nor any of the other explanations, sounded especially accurate or reliable to me.
All of the sources I consulted agreed, that the term is not to be taken literally, and that you don’t need a weatherman to know that cats and dogs raining down from the sky is implausible, which is what prompted me to go – "oh yeah, then what about those cows that go flying by in the tornado in The Wizard of Oz?"
Yeah, I know that was what passed for special effects in 1939, but there are plenty of reports of farm animals, motorized vehicles and even houses blowing around during severe twisters, so why not cats and dogs?
As for alligators, I used to work for a guy who often used the phrase, “up to my eyeballs in alligators.” Granted, he was from Florida and seemed to have a special kinship with gators, or at least the thought of gators. Or maybe it was just a fondness for the University of Florida football team. But I always took it to mean that he was extremely busy, pressured and harassed by all the distractions, deadlines, obligations and responsibilities he faced.
I had another boss, one of his favorite sayings was “like a heat-seeking missile.” He used it often to describe one of the aggressive managers in our company, and it fit too. Once she set her sights on something, she went after it and she didn’t stop until she got what she was after.
These days, I often take long walks with my sister, and I’ve noticed she frequently uses the phrase, “piece of cake,” which means “easy,” as in “easily accomplished.” A similar saying is “easy as pie.”
Then there’s this other dear friend who is renowned among those close to her for the colorful sayings that roll off her tongue organically; so much so that the people she works with put together a book of her sayings as a birthday present. One that I recall her using is, “He crawled up my backside and pitched a tent,” to describe someone who was demanding of her attention.
I guess I’ve always been amused by sayings, which, I suppose, is why I took interest in an article I came across entitled “The President’s most popular phrases.” They analyzed the content of speeches he delivered over a several-month period and determined that, based on the number of times he used it, his favorite saying is, “Believe me.”
It reminds me of the poster for the movie “Blazing Saddles,” which showed writer/director Mel Brooks (who played Governor Lepetomane) adorned in an Indian headdress, his face on a Indian Head nickel. In place of the phrase “In God we Trust,” it read, “I’m Mel; trust me.”
I'm more willing to accept the possibility of alligators, cats and dogs falling from the sky, but I’m not so gullible as to believe a liar (unless it's me).
Ron Colone can be reached at email@example.com
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