DOG DAYS OF SUMMER: A STAR-STUDDED ORIGIN STORY

09/06/18

 

Ah, the “Dog Days of Summer.” That time of year when the days are longer, hotter, and…Wait. What exactly are the Dog Days of Summer anyway? You’ve likely heard the famous phrase in popular culture or even in casual conversation. But where did this expression come from?

To answer that question, we must first look to the stars.

That’s right. The phrase has nothing to do with dogs at all. Who knew? It actually refers to the “Dog Star.” Not a celebrity pooch, but a literal star named Sirius (although that’s a pretty cool name for a dog come to think of it).

Located within the constellation of Canis Major, or the “Great Dog,” Sirius has bragging rights as the brightest star in the entire sky.

The phrase’s origin story begins in ancient Greece and Rome. Rising and setting with the summer sun, Sirius’s bright appearance was thought to bring escalated temperatures to Earth and its inhabitants. These summer days became known as the “dog days” or hottest days of the year.

In ancient times, the star was associated with serious catastrophes (and we’re not talking about chewed up socks or a backyard filled with newly-dug holes). It was believed that because of the star’s close proximity to the solar system, Sirius brought extreme heat and humidity to Earth that would cause fevers, storms, droughts, and all sorts of bad luck. In fact, over in ancient Egypt, Sirius’s grand entrance would signal the coming of the “Nile Days” – also known as the flooding of the Nile River.

So, when are the Dog Days of Summer? Well, the actual dates have shifted over the years. Modern astronomy tells us that these shifts have nothing to do with Sirius, but rather the Earth’s position in relation to the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Dog Days occur in July and August when the Earth is at an angle that causes it to receive more direct sunlight. That means the Southern Hemisphere experiences the Dog Days during January, February, and March when that part of the Earth is exposed to direct sunlight that causes warmer weather and longer days.

Fast-forward to modern times and you’ll find that the phrase has endured over the years. Along the way, it’s even picked up some additional meanings and usage in contemporary speech. Dog lazing around the house? Must be the Dog Days of Summer. Dog acting crazy? Blame the Dog Days of Summer!

Today, the expression is used to describe those excessively hot summer days that are perfect for swimming in the pool, cooling off with a pitcher of lemonade, or seeking refuge in an air-conditioned house. With so many different meanings, it’s no wonder then that the phrase’s original history is not widely known.

So, there you have it. It turns out the Dog Days of Summer have nothing to do with man’s best friends. But like those summer blockbusters about a superhero’s origin story, the phrase’s history is also pretty star-studded! We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief history of the popular phrase. Prepare to impress your fellow pet parents with your canine-themed trivia prowess!

 

Sources:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150710-dog-days-summer-sirius-star-astronomy-weather-language/

https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/when-are-the-dog-days-of-summer

https://www.space.com/8946-dog-days-summer-celestial-origin.html