Dog Days, or, Why So Sirius?

By afrett | Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, August 6th, 2018 at 8:05 pm

 

When late summer hits, you begin to hear people talk about the ‘dog days of summer’. It’s used in commercials. You hear the phrase dropped by morning radio DJ’s. There even a popular song that references the saying! Everyone sort of knows it refers to a very hot part of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), but what in the world are we referencing? Do dogs like this weather? Do they hate it? Is this even about dogs? As with many English idioms, the answer isn’t as straightforward as it sounds on the surface.

Let’s learn a little astronomy! In the stars that make up the constellation Canis Major, Sirius is the brightest. It also happens to be the brightest start visible from Earth. At least as far back as the Greeks, humans associated the time when Sirius would rise just before the sun as not just an indicator that the hottest part of the summer was coming, but also a harbinger of some catastrophic event. How did we lose that connotation and start picturing a tired dog on a porch?

Not only did the Scientific Revolution put a major dent on humans looking to the stars for guidance, but the phrase was translated from Latin about 500 years ago, well into the era dominated by the Catholic Church. It was almost a stillborn phrase, stripped of the meaning on arrival in modern times. So we humans did what we’ve always been best at: attributing new meaning to our changing reality! And most ironically,because the stars position in the sky slow shifts through the millenia, people are going to be talking about the dog days of summer when Sirius will actually be rising in the winter about 13,000 years from now!

Now you know! Enjoy the dog days while they last; winter isn’t as far away as you think!

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