“When It Rains, It Pours” — Meaning and Origin Revealed

Written by Sammi Caramela
Updated: October 6, 2023
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There are countless idioms we use in our everyday lives of which we don’t know their origins. You’ve likely heard the saying, “When it rains, it pours,” but have you considered its origin and meaning? This expression has been used for ages to describe the occurrence of bad events taking place simultaneously. But what exactly does it mean — and where did it stem from?

When we’re referencing a bout of bad luck, we might use this phrase to describe our current circumstances, but its source might shock you. Here is the origin and meaning of “when it rains, it pours,” as well as appropriate, real-life uses of the phrase.

Origins of “When It Rains, It Pours”

The phrase “when it rains, it pours” dates all the way back to the early 1900s. Shockingly, the common idiom was originally created and used in a Morton Salt advertisement. In fact, the company’s slogan is now “When It Rains It Pours®,” which highlights the fact that Morton Salt is free-flowing — even in the rain. Back in the day, free-flowing salt was extremely appealing, as clumping salt (from humidity) was a common problem. When Morton added magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent, the company created the first free-flowing salt on the market.

A cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) parked on the street during an evening downpour of rain, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Often, pouring rain will follow after a long drought — both literally and metaphorically.

©Morgan Mokrzycka/Shutterstock.com

While Morton Salt might have coined this idiom, they did take inspiration from somewhere else. Originally, the phrase derived from the 18th-century proverb “It never rains, but it pours.” This specific expression has a more negative connotation (which is how the current idiom is typically used today), as it describes the tendency for bad things to happen in multitudes.

Morton Salt, however, tweaked the wording to advertise how its salt still “pours” when it rains. In other words, even in the humidity or when met with moisture, the salt remains intact and does not clump.

Meaning of “When It Rains, It Pours”

As mentioned above, “when it rains, it pours” insinuates that when one bad thing happens, everything else seems to go wrong, too. It doesn’t just rain a few drops here and there — it downpours. Our problems tend to multiply all at once, leaving us overwhelmed, as though we are drowning in the chaos. 

However, when the pouring rain suddenly stops, the sun typically comes back out. The storm doesn’t last forever, and the clouds clear. The same can be said about our problems. Even when you feel you’ve hit rock bottom, you might be just days — even moments — away from experiencing bliss.

Examples of Everyday Use

Many people use “when it rains, it pours” when they’re feeling victimized by life. Here are some common examples of this:

  • Have you ever had a bad day where it seems like nothing is going right? For example, you woke up late, spilled coffee all over your shirt, missed your train, and missed a deadline at work. All of these negative occurrences piling up at once is a prime example of “when it rains, it pours.”
  • Your heat, washing machine, and oven all broke within the same weak. Oh, and you’re about to host the holidays at your house. When it rains, it pours!
  • Work has been uncharacteristically slow, and you’ve enjoyed the luxury of taking your time on your assignments. Then, out of nowhere, you’re hit with a list of things to do on a Friday afternoon when you’re trying to leave early for the weekend. It’s as though, after a long drought…it doesn’t rain; it pours.

What Is a Useful Way to Illustrate the Phrase “When It Rains, It Pours?”

While it might feel like you’re just adding insult to injury by saying, “When it rains, it pours,” you can actually say this phrase to lighten the mood. Many people will toss the phrase around as if to say, “That’s life!” or “It is what it is!” making light of the situation at hand rather than dwelling on the misfortunes. 

Another helpful use of the idiom is to use it as a way of accepting your situation. For example, rather than asking yourself why all these bad things keep happening to you, you can simply recognize this happens to everyone at some point, accept the situation, and move on to the best of your ability. 

Rain drops falling from a black umbrella concept for bad weather, winter or protection

Just like the rain, our problems often occur all at once. But the sun always comes out again.

©Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock.com

A Real-Life Example From Reddit

An old Reddit post asked users to share their own moments and stories of “when it rains, it pours.” One of the submissions came from someone who kept experiencing inconvenience after inconvenience. The poster shared how, in the span of just a few months, she and her husband had a baby, underwent a custody battle for her step-kids, and moved into a new home that required a lot more maintenance and repairs than they initially anticipated. All the while, the husband was working a low-wage job, and their power bill shot up to $800+ per month.

More and more things began to break, such as the transmission in their van and their garage door. They also experienced a mice infestation. They couldn’t get in and out of their driveway due to snow and ice, and the husband ended up losing his job. The poster stated: “We were both stuck at home and ridiculously depressed.”

However, she then ended the post by highlighting the silver lining: “After losing that job, he got a way better job with better pay five minutes from the house. The story has a happy ending, if you will. We bought the house, the transmission is fixed, we have custody of the kids, and they’re doing great, the power bill is under control, and we have a good working relationship with the ex-wife.”

Clearly, the poster went through the ringer for quite a while. It seems like everything that could go wrong for her and her family did go wrong. Bad thing after bad happened until finally, they experienced relief — and a silver lining, as she mentioned.

This example is a great reminder that though things can seemingly fall apart all at once, they can resolve and foster something even better soon after. It’s also the proper demonstration of “when it rains, it pours” because — as she mentioned — once the pouring stopped, the sun came out, so to speak. 

What Are the Possible Pros and Cons?

Using the phrase “when it rains, it pours” might be appropriate and lighthearted in some situations. It helps express our frustration with our circumstances and the constant negativity that seemingly pelts us from every direction. However, there are times when it might be insensitive or unhelpful to use this phrase, especially if you’re finding yourself wallowing without taking the right actions to improve your situation.

Landscape view on the tropical forest from the house due to the rain season in Bali island

Rain can be a beautiful thing, cleansing the Earth and providing water to vegetation.

©Iryna Horbachova/Shutterstock.com

Here are the possible pros and cons of using the idiom “when it rains, it pours”:

Pros: 

  • It can lighten the mood during difficult times.
  • It might help you see the brighter side of the situation, as there’s always sunshine after rain — even when it’s pouring.
  • It might help you practice acceptance.

Cons

  • It can be insensitive to use in certain circumstances, especially if you’re saying it to someone else who is enduring a hard time or recovering from trauma.
  • It might cultivate a sense of victimhood that makes you feel trapped in self-limiting beliefs.

Though it’s relatively harmless for the most part, using your best judgment when saying this phrase will ensure you’re not offending anyone or painting yourself a victim. Whether it feels like it or not, the sun will always shine again.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Viktor Gladkov/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Sammi is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering cats, nature, symbolism, and spirituality. Sammi is a published author and has been writing professionally for six+ years. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Writing Arts and double minors in Journalism and Psychology. A proud New Jersey resident, Sammi loves reading, traveling, and doing yoga with her little black cat, Poe.

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