he raised Cain


Senior Member
Huckleberry Finn

I didn't want to go to school much before, but I reckoned I'd go now to spite pap. That law trial was a slow business—appeared like they warn't ever going to get started on it; so every now and then I'd borrow two or three dollars off of the judge for him, to keep from getting a cowhiding. Every time he got money he got drunk; and every time he got drunk he raised Cain around town; and every time he raised Cain he got jailed. He was just suited—this kind of thing was right in his line.

What does that Cain mean here? Can you paraphrase? Thanks!
  • The dictionary here at WRF is quite good

    Cain1 (kān), n.
    1. Bible the first son of Adam and Eve, who murdered his brother Abel. Gen. 4.
    2. a murderer.
    3. Idioms raise Cain,[Slang.]
      • Idioms become angry or violent:He'll raise Cain when he finds out I lost his watch.
      • Idioms to behave in a boisterous manner; cause a disturbance:The students raised Cain while the teacher was out.
    I just heard an American say "He's raising Cain about his paycheck." Now, I know 'to raise Cain' means 'to create a great commotion'. My question is: is this expression still commonly used in America? Would it be understood by people in their twenties?
    I have no recollection of reading the expression in Huckleberry Finn, but I know the expression. When I was growing up, it was common (and used by people who were not necessarily familiar with the works of Mark Twain), and I am sure that people my age and perhaps a little younger remember and use it. Whether people in their 20s know it is a question of whether they know expressions that were around 50 years ago, not whether they have read and remember a sentence or two in Huckleberry Finn.

    Fans of Bruce Springsteen will know the expression from its literal use in "Adam Raised a Cain," "Raising Cain" is the name of a 1992 movie, and there was a horse in the 2023 running of the the Kentucky Derby named Raise Cain, so the phrase is still around.
    Almost 200 years old:

    P.1. to raise Cain: see raise v.1 III.ii.22b colloquial (originally U.S.).
    1. 1840
      Why have we every reason to believe that Adam and Eve were both rowdies? Because..they both raised Cain.
      Daily Pennant (St. Louis) 2 May
    There's a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants (currently 705 in the US) called "Raising Cane's" (note the spelling difference). It's actually named after the founder's dog, but the punny name helps keep the original phrase in people's minds.
    I can't answer the question from personal experience about 20-somethings, but it would surprise me if it's not still well known generally.