Soon enough we’ll be entering into what we call the “Dog Days of Summer,” but like most of the turns of phrase that we use in everyday speech, we often don’t know what that means, nor do we understand the true origins the phrase. It just works its way into our language and vernacular and leaves us scratching our heads when we wonder, on a day like today, just what that really means. Fortunately, information on such matters is now widely available, whereas once upon a time we would have simply had to say “I guess we’ll never know!” or gone and done the requisite research at the library. Thankfully, today, we can just look up the answer and you can read a summary here!
The origin of the term “dog days of summer” stretches back, like many of our expressions and traditions, to antiquity and the time of the Romans. The hot weather that accompanied the later days of summer was associated with the star Sirius, which they called the “Dog Star” because it was the brightest star in the Canis Major, or Large Dog, constellation. It wasn’t hard to see it; Sirius was, after all, the brightest star in the sky, which was a major deal in a society that did not yet have access to telescope technology. What they saw was what they got.
For the Romans, the “dog days” were the days in which Sirius rose just before or at the same time as the sun; however, over the centuries this has changed as our position in the heavens has changed. At that time, the Romans would sacrifice a red dog in April in order to appease Sirius, as it was believed that the star was what caused the hot weather. (Which can’t have been at all pleasant in the Mediterranean!) It was believed that the Dog Ways were an evil time with a variety of ill omens accompanying it, including boiling seas, soured wine, maddened dogs, and a variety of diseases.
Today we don’t sacrifice dogs to Sirius, nor do we believe that the star brings with it extremely hot weather or boiling seas. Instead, we merely anticipate the hot weather ahead of us and plan for it, whether that means finding cheap ways to save on our energy bill while staying cool or at least getting out of town and to somewhere cooler in the meantime. Ironically, for our dogs, we need to be extra careful; they could easily experience heatstroke in this weather! Just remember: dog days of summer means a long summer for your dog!