Terry’s Take: The dog days of summer
We’ve all heard the phrase “dog days of summer”, but do you really know the true meaning and origin of the term. Most of us understand it to be a period of hot and uncomfortable weather during July and August when the storm track shifts north and cool fronts loose their punch! The days included in that period vary, and in ancient Rome the dog days were considered to last from July 23 or 24 to Aug. 23 or 24. That period is a little looser in modern interpretation (roughly anytime in July or August) but is still tied to any period of weather that’s hot, muggy, lethargic or inactive.
The phrase is a translation of the Latin phrase “dies caniculares,” which means “days of the dog star,” because during those months, the rising of Sirius, the dog star, coincides with the rising of the sun.
Sirius, part of the constellation Canis Major (the name means “the greater dog” in Latin), is by far the brightest star in the nighttime sky. Some ancient stargazers concluded that the sun and Sirius rising together made the days extra hot. But the star has nothing to do with the heat; the sun gets all the credit for that.
Even in ancient times, some people recognized that fact. Richard Hinckley Allen, the author of “Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning,” quotes an ancient astronomer, Geminos, as saying: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the dog days; but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun’s heat is the greatest.”
Among the old wives’ tales about the dog days of summer are claims that, during that period, sores or wounds won’t heal as fast; that dogs go mad at that time of year (a belief that may be tied to the fact that overheated pups will pant and drool, making them look rabid); that snakes will go blind and strike out wildly; and that fish won’t bite.
Whether you buy into the myths or not, one thing is for sure, the dog days are hot, steamy and known to have a little extra bark!