Doggy DaysAug 01, 2023
Why, why, why is this time of year called The Dog Days of Summer? The only thing it brought to mind when I was young was that there was only a month before we went back to school. I liked school, but I liked sleeping in better.
Photo by JK Creative
So let’s get back to that phrase - The Dog Days. Dogs get a bad rap. Apparently it’s all their fault this part of summer is so…what? Hot? Humid? Close to the school year starting? Dry?
Well, blame it on the dogs no longer! We’re going to put the blame where it belongs, with the Romans. See, there’s this star in the sky called Sirius. Anyone who has read the Harry Potter books knows that Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, can transform into a dog. This is probably because he was named after the “dog” star, Sirius, which is part of the constellation Canis Major. (Good thing he wasn’t named after one of the bear constellations, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor - but I digress.) And just in case you didn’t know, Sirius is the brightest star in the western hemisphere night sky.
So, those Romans. Because Sirius (the star, not the magician) appeared in the sky just before the sun at the end of July, during the hottest part of the year, the Romans gave it a special name, “dies caniculares”, which means “days of the Dog Star” (the star, not Keanu Reeves’ band). Eventually, because everything seems to get made into smaller and smaller words (think “peeps” for people and “meds” for medication), it got distilled down to “dog days.” The Romans, by the way, are not responsible for peeps and meds. I’m sure they had a long Latin phrase for each of those things. Any Latin speakers out there?
But wait, there’s more! According to the philosophy of the day oh-so-long ago, the Dog Days were when “all liquids are poisonous, when bathing, swimming, or even drinking water can be dangerous, and a time when no sore or wound will heal properly. It is also a time when we are likely to be 'dog-tired,' if not 'sick as a dog,' to 'dog it' at work and 'go to the dogs' in our leisure hours-in short, to lead a 'dog's life' until the miserable period is over." Folklore scholar Eleanor Long wrote that about the trends during that time. So not only were people avoiding that dangerous drinking water, they were stinky.
Even though we’ve evolved enough to know it’s okay to swim and bathe this time of year, we still call it “The Dog Days of Summer.” Certainly, the dogs play along, laying out flat on a cool surface instead of running around, panting, and generally looking miserable.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood
Me? I remember playing killer Monopoly on the porch with my cousins, sipping a cool lemonade, and knowing that in one short month I’d be back in school. What do you remember about the Dog Days?
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