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Word Wisdom: Dog Days

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

The earth’s climate is always changing, it is never static. We are in a warming trend now which has affected us on the Prairies with a hotter than usual June. Then we cooled a bit in early July but now we are in the Dog Days of summer.

Since 1538, the term Dog Days has been used in the English language. It is defined as the period between mid-July and early September. Dog Days in the northern hemisphere describes hot sultry weather. On Wednesday, July 19, temperatures reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit or 47 degrees Celsius around 2 p.m. in Phoenix, breaking a 34-year-old daily temperature record set in 1989. “We've also marked the tenth day that Phoenix has not fallen under 90 degrees F (32 C) at night,” said Kenneth Kunkel, atmospheric scientist at North Carolina State University.

Dog Days is also used to indicate a period of stagnation or inactivity. This developed because hot weather often forces people to rest more to avoid the heat of the sun and the scorching winds.  When it is stiflingly hot outside most among us are tempted to shirk work and lie in the shade somewhere. It’s not just dogs that seek the shade.

However, the real reason that dogs got singled out for escaping the heat in the summer is in the stars. The Dog in Dog Days refers to the Dog Star, Sirius, connected to the heavenly constellation Orion. The Dog Star represents the hound of the hunter Orion. Sirius rises with the sun during the hot days of summer in the northern hemisphere and is thus associated with the stifling weather. Sirius is the brightest star in the summer sky. Sirius is in the constellation called Canis Major, meaning larger dog, close to Orion. The ancient Greeks observed the early morning rising of Sirius coinciding with the summer days of August and called this time hemerai kynades, meaning dog days. In ancient Egypt, when Sirius returned to the night sky it was a precursor to the annual flooding of the Nile River and was worshipped as the goddess Sopdet. Greek poets wrote of Sirius bringing not only heat but also thunderstorms, fever, lethargy, bad luck, and yes, mad dogs.

Although Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, it is 8.7 light-years away, which is 8.23×1013 kms from Earth. Therefore, the star itself has no effect on the planet's weather or temperature. For now, Sirius continues to return to the night sky in the summer, but its position continues to gradually shift relative to the Sun and will rise in the middle of winter in about 10,000 years.

It is possible that St. Roch, the medieval patron saint of dogs, remembered on August 16th, may have some connection to the Dog Days.

Dog Days is also the title of a Japanese anime series in 2011. The story is about a boy, Shinku Izumi, who is summoned to an alternate world where the inhabitants have animal ears and tails.

On the title track from Taylor Swift’s 2020 album Evermore, Bon Iver, who is featured in the song, mentions "the violence of the dog days".

According to baseball purists the phrase “dog days of summer” refers to the time between July 3rd and August 11th, the 40-day stretch that the temperature and humidity reach their highest points of the season in many ballparks. For other baseballs fans the late summer Dog Days refers to the time teams are either firing up for the playoff run or winding down and heading for a disappointing off-season.

We are now in the Dog Days so enjoy, relax, and stay out of the hot sun. Go Jays!

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 



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