Did someone say, ‘when it rains it pours’ and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
‘When it rains it pours’ is a saying that means that unfortunate events occur in clusters or streaks, often in a very short period of time.
This is an expression that you can use when a bad situation is made worse by a number of other bad things happening at the same time.
In the UK, they have a similar idiom that has two variations:
Though the phrase is usually used when a number of bad things happen all around the same time period, you will also sometimes find this same idiom used to describe a number of good things happening at one time.
The phrase ‘it never rains but it pours,’ which is more often used in the UK, is attested as early as the early 1700s.
John Arbuthnot, an English physician, published a book in 1726 entitled It Cannot Rain But It Pours. In the text, the following line is found:
“It cannot rain but it pours; or London strow'd with rarities.”
An essay resulting from a collaboration between Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift was titled “It Cannot Rain But It Pours.”
The form of the saying that is more common in the US, ‘when it rains it pours,’ was actually the advertising slogan for Morton Salt. The idea was that the salt runs freely even when it's damp outside, and the logo featured a little girl with an umbrella. The image of the little girl and the motto first showed up in 1914 on Morton's table salt packages.
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that the American version of the idiom hasn’t been nearly as common historically as the British version, ‘It never rains but it pours.’
That being said, we find examples of the idiom that precede the introduction of the Morton Salt motto, pointing to the fact that the phrase (at least used literally) existed before the advertising campaign was launched. This particular phrasing is, therefore, not original to Morton Salt.
The 1860 publication of The Juvenile Missionary Magazine uses the phrase:
“In spring our early rains come down; for about fifteen days we have showers daily; these are the Chota Bursat. About the middle of June the Bursat begins, and from that time until the beginning of October it rains so often that you are never sure of one hour’s dry weather. And most true it is then, “that when it rains it pours;” for it seems as though the windows of heaven are opened.”
We also find it in Volume 23 of The Ladies’ Repository from 1863:
“The soil is not lacking in productiveness– cotton, corn, and yams luxuriate in it, and if the country contained a few ridges or elevations to afford relief, it would not be an undesirable place to live. The climate is mild and pleasant, except when it rains. When it rains it pours; and the water does not run on the ground, it stands.”
There are numerous examples of ‘it never rains but it pours’ in early 19th-century texts. In The Canterbury Magazine from 1834, we find the phrase being used in the positive sense of good things being followed by other good things:
“‘No sir,’ said he, when he had done laughing, ‘I have not got rid of my tic douleureux; but I have let my second floor; and you have brought me the good luck; I have been two years in this house, and never had a lodger before. They say it never rains but it pours.’”
Another example can be found in The Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine from 1827:
“His life, however, was spared; and sad and sorrowful, he turned towards home, wishing that he had never seen a Leprechaun. But it never rains but it pours; and when he got to Ferns he was obliged to hide himself in the ould castle, for fear of some yeomen who were parading the streets.”
How would this idiom be used in a sentence?
Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other phrases that have a similar meaning to this idiom?
Here are some options:
There are also a number of other idioms that reference rain, including:
‘When it rains it pours’ is an idiom that is used to express that problems often occur in rapid succession or at the same time, making it so the challenges a person faces compound. People will also sometimes use this phrase to refer to a number of good things happening all at once or around the same time.
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