Reflections: Dog days of summer
Dog days of summer
By William L. Bulla
What are the "dog days of summer"? Over the years they have been established as that hot, humid summer period between July and early September, but the actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate.
Why are they called the "dog days of summer" The term "Dog Days" was coined by the ancient Romans, who called this period "days of the dogs" after Sirius (the "Dog Star"), the brightest star in the heavens besides the Sun.
It was believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, and hysterics."
Today, the phrase Dog Days, or the Dog Days of Summer, conjures up the hottest, most sultry days of summer. They are a phenomenon of the northern hemisphere where they usually fall between July and early September but the actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate. The Old Farmers Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the ancient heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year when rainfall is at its lowest levels.
According to The Book of Common Prayer (1552), the "Dog Daies" begin on July 6 and end on August 17. The Book of Common Prayer is the common title of a number of prayer books of the Church of England and of other Anglican churches. The first book was published in 1549, in the reign of Edward VI, following the break with Rome. Traditional Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian prayer books have borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer, and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into the English language. Many words and phrases from the Book of Common Prayer have entered popular culture.
In recent years, the phrase "Dog Days" or "Dog Days of Summer" have also found new meanings. Dog Days can also define a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant. The term has frequently been used in reference to the American stock market. Typically, summer is a very slow time for the stock market, and additionally, poorly performing stocks with little future potential are frequently known as "dogs."
A casual survey will usually find that many people believe the phrase is in reference to the conspicuous laziness of domesticated dogs (who are in danger of overheating with too much exercise) during the hottest days of the summer. When speaking of "Dog Days" there seems to be a connotation of lying or "dogging" around, or being "dog tired" on these hot and humid days. Although these meanings have nothing to do with the original source of the phrase, they may have been attached to the phrase in recent years due to common usage or misunderstanding the origin of the phrase.
But, let's all keep as cool as we can and try to enjoy our summer.
William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.