You’ve probably heard the phrase, “the dog days of summer” or the “the dog days of August” around this time of year. This generally refers to what is often the hottest and most humid time of summer in the Northern Hemisphere when many of us – dogs and humans alike – just want to lie around because of the heat. Certainly we’ve had no shortage of such days lately, but where did this phrase come from? And what does it have to do with dogs?
In ancient Greece and Rome, the Dog Days were believed to be a time of drought, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and men would be driven mad by the extreme heat. Today, the phrase doesn’t conjure up such bad imagery. Instead, the Dog Days are associated purely with the time of summer’s oppressive peak temperatures and humidity.
Most people don’t know it, but Dog Days is actually derived from astrology and refers to an astronomical event where the star Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth and the star that is commonly referred to as the “Dog Star,” rises to its most prolific point. So, Dog Days is actually a reference to the fact that, during this time of year, the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius. And, since Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, this is why it is sometimes called the Dog Star.
So, in astronomical terms, the phrase “dog days of summer” came to mean the 20 days before and the 20 days after this alignment of Sirius with the Sun.
Regardless of how we refer to it, we have undoubtedly had weeks of hot and humid days this July and August. I don’t know about the dogs, but some ways for humans to cool off this summer are to take a dip in the pool or play in a sprinkler, freeze Kool-Aid pops or eat popsicles, or eat citrus fruit and snacks on frozen melon or berries. On the really bad days, wet a towel in cold water and wrap it around your neck. And always drink plenty of water and keep the air conditioning on if you have it and make sure to keep fans close by.
Hang in there everyone – fall will be here before we know it!