The ‘dog days’ are here, but where did that phrase come from?

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I arrived at my Mitchell County church this past Sunday and went in to turn on the air conditioner so that everyone would be comfortable by 9:30 a.m. when the service begins. It was cool in the sanctuary; someone had beat me to the punch and already turned it on.

I fiddled about getting ready, and at about 9 went outside as I normally do to begin greeting the early arrivals. It was then that I was struck with the heaviness of the air and a temperature that was already high. In other words, even the morning breeze was warm.

The first person who arrived said, “Well, Dog Days are here.”

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I had not heard that phrase in a long time, but had to admit that what I was feeling with that stifling heat could be attributed to the Dog Days of Summer. Young people today might not have heard our late summer weather referred to as Dog Days, but I have.

From where did we get the term “Dog Days?” The Old Farmer’s Almanac? No, but it has a calendar that sets Dog Days from July 3 until August 11. Coincidentally, I write this on Tuesday, August 11, and I don’t think today will be the last day of the hot and sultry, stifling sort of weather we have been having.

Actually, Dog Days derives its name from a constellation in our night sky known as Canis Major. Our night skies are muddled these days by so many artificial lights from our cities, but in ancient times, people gazed at the stars and imagined them as all sorts of animals.

Canis Major looked like a dog and from that imagination got its name. The brightest star in that constellation and also the brightest in our night sky is named Sirius. Since it is the brightest star in a constellation known as a dog, it’s called the “Dog Star.”

For a few days (40) in the calendar year, the rising of Sirius or the Dog Star, coincides with the rising of the sun and the beginning of our day. It can be seen in the morning sky even though I can’t say that I have ever seen it.

Those ancients felt that during those 40 days, it was so bright, that it added its heat to the heat of the sun and made the days much hotter than normal. So, for the many days of hot and sultry weather, like those days we are having now, we call them Dog Days.

That’s probably more than you wanted to know about the Dog Days of summer, but that’s the origin of the term. I have to admit that these last few days and weeks have been hotter and more uncomfortable than usual.

In reading more about these days, I read the comment that during Dog Days, the gnats are worse. Quite frankly, how could one tell if they are worse than other days?

Also, one said that sores are harder to heal during Dog Days and that snakes shed their skins during these days. I don’t know about sores, but I can understand a snake taking off its clothes to get a little cooler! I thought about the same thing, but you’ll be glad I didn’t do that.

Another said that the Mocking Birds can’t sing during Dog Days because they have strep throat. How do they know? Plus, squash stop producing. This heat is enough for all of us to stop producing.

Dog Days. They’re definitely here and I’ll bide my time until they’re gone.