Dictionary.com

The Origin of Dog Days

DogDays

It’s hot again, up in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s that time of year when the sun shines its most unforgiving beams, baking the ground and, indeed, us. It’s the portion of summer known as the hottest time of the year. Or, more delightfully, the dog days.

Contrary to common conjecture, the dog days do not take their peculiar name from weather that “isn’t fit for a dog,” or heat that is so extreme it drives dogs mad. These folk etymologies shrink in comparison with the actual background of the phrase, a story of astronomical proportions.

The dog days, in the most technical sense, refer to the one- to two-month interval in which a particularly bright star rises and sets with the sun, shining during the daylight hours and staying hidden at night. This star is known by three names: Sirius, the Dog Star, and Alpha Canis Majoris. Apart from being the most prominent star in the constellation Canis Major (Latin for “Greater Dog”), this heavenly body is responsible for the origin of the expression dog days, a phrase that has endured through millennia.

Classicists and astronomers will know the Dog Star as Sirius. The earliest record of this name comes from the Greek poet Hesiod, in Work and Days, written in seventh century BC. Meaning “searing” or “scorching,” Sirius encapsulates the Dog Star’s unusual brightness. Additionally, in Greek mythology Sirius is the name of the dog of Orion (a mythical hunter who has a constellation of his own adjacent to Canis Major), which further reinforces the Dog Star’s historical associations with canines. This tradition continues in the Harry Potter series; Sirius Black’s Animagus form is a large black dog.

The Dog Star’s connection to dogs was not only maintained by constellations and mythology, it was boosted by the fact that dogs seemed to take the brunt of the dog days. They suffered from the heat more intensely than humans seemed to, and were at greater risk of madness.

The English phrase dog days, which entered the language in the 1500s, is a direct translation from the Latin term caniculares dies, which refers to this specific seasonal phenomenon and is modeled after the same term in Hellenistic Greek. It is also from Latin that we got the word canicular, which refers to the Dog Star, as well the precursor to the expression dog days: canicular days.

The Dog Star, being the second brightest star that can be seen with the naked eye, did not escape the attention of ancient astronomers. Nor did its annual disappearance from the night sky and the corresponding influx of heat. Initially, ancient Greeks blamed the Dog Star for the sweltering weather, assuming that its brightness paired with the sun manifested in the hottest days of the year. This belief was debunked in the first-century BC by Greek astronomer Geminus, but the significance of the Dog Star remained untempered.

In ancient times, the dog days would have roughly corresponded to the summer solstice. Due to precession, however, the days have fallen later and later in the year. The exact dates of the dog days depend on your latitude, but by today’s estimation they begin on July 3 and come to a close on August 11.

Humans have been griping about the weather as far back as written history reaches, and the dog days were an important time for all. The Ancient Greeks and Romans, in particular, had grim feelings for Sirius, associating it with an outbreak of insufferable heat and fever. Civilization has long credited the objects in the sky with influence over the earth and its inhabitants; if it’s not the Dog Star cursing you with sultry summer heat and madness it’s the moon driving you to lunacy. It seems you can’t win when it comes to the celestial bodies.

63 Comments

  1. 123fakeperson -  July 1, 2016 - 8:26 am

    This was kinda cool to read. And yes Jeff, you’re right.

    Reply
  2. suck my ass -  October 19, 2015 - 11:40 am

    dogs are awesome yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    Reply
    • MARKEISHA -  May 25, 2016 - 11:00 am

      no

      Reply
      • uuhhuiu -  May 27, 2016 - 6:42 pm

        yes

        Reply
      • Aimee -  May 30, 2016 - 12:13 pm

        Excuse me!!!!

        Reply
      • Andrew -  July 8, 2016 - 9:51 am

        OK are you wanting all dogs dead or are you just a cat person oh and I’m not trying to quiz you just asking

        Reply
      • wilfre -  September 6, 2016 - 5:36 am

        yessss

        Reply
    • October-born -  July 5, 2016 - 5:56 am

      Hey idiot-how old are you anyway with a nym like that? 5? Grow up, get off your mommy’s computer and go fly a kite. Or~ take your meds.

      Although I agree dogs are fantastic, Your immaturity on the keys is nauseating. Can’t wait to see your immature, idiotic reply. (sarc)

      Reply
  3. quiet time | Writing for Myself -  July 28, 2015 - 3:45 pm

    […] that time of year again, the dog days of summer. For some reason I thought this time was in August, turns out it is actually July 3 to […]

    Reply
    • RedLeafRenegade -  October 28, 2015 - 7:25 am

      Cats will always rule the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :) :) :)

      The dogs will forever be their slaves, collecting their water and knocking the cat food of the counters, getting dirty, while their cat overlords lazy around on a plush cushion, nibbling daintily on their food.

      Hail the Cat Army
      #CatsRuleForeverrrrrr!!!!!!!! :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

      Reply
      • The Dragon Slaying Ninja -  October 28, 2015 - 11:54 am

        YES CATS WILL LIVE ON DOGS YOU ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO CATS CATS WILL REIGN THE UNIVERSE CAT RULEZ FUDGE YOU DOGS CCCCCCCCCCCCCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTTTTTTSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Reply
        • The Dragon Slaying Ninja -  October 28, 2015 - 11:56 am

          sorry for my outburst LOL

          Reply
      • The Dragon Slaying Ninja -  October 29, 2015 - 6:15 am

        sorry for my outburst LOL

        Reply
      • The Dragon Slaying Ninja -  October 29, 2015 - 6:17 am

        whoops sended 2 outbursts

        Reply
      • MARKEISHA -  May 25, 2016 - 10:59 am

        yes

        Reply
      • LPS _Twilight -  May 27, 2016 - 6:51 am

        Lie.Dogs Rule the world!!

        Reply
        • awesome11dah! -  May 28, 2016 - 5:26 am

          I also agree. Dogs rule cats drool. Why are dogs more superior? This is because those felines are afraid of those awesome canines! 2 TRUE!

          Reply
          • Andrew -  July 8, 2016 - 9:48 am

            And most dogs are smart
            cats cant pull someone from a burning building or detect bombs

      • kitty -  May 29, 2016 - 1:58 pm

        YAZZ CATS FOREVER

        Reply
      • markeisha -  June 1, 2016 - 11:53 am

        okay.

        Reply
        • Yort -  June 5, 2016 - 5:50 pm

          I love cats….they taste like chicken

          Reply
  4. Meowzer -  July 22, 2015 - 7:25 pm

    It makes you wonder… Was Sirius Black named for the star? I read an article about how the naming of characters is VERY IMPORTANT as the names will be the ones that people remember.
    Meowzer

    Reply
    • me -  May 29, 2016 - 1:20 am

      well,
      siriuses animagus is a dog so i guess j.k.rowling did think of the star

      Reply
    • braigwen-the-scholar -  July 2, 2016 - 10:01 pm

      Yes, he was – all Harry Potter characters have meaningful and relevant names, and most blacks have to do with astronomy: Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo; Bellatrix, a star in the constellation Orion; Andromeda, a spiral galaxy; and Orius, after the constellation Orion.

      Reply
      • ArigAstronomical -  July 27, 2016 - 11:22 am

        Most blacks have to do with astronomy, but astronomy wouldn’t exist without visible stars and arrangements of stars: “…from Greek astronomia, literally ‘star arrangement,’ from astron ‘star’…” (etymonline.com)

        Visible stars would not exist without the blackness/invisible surrounding them or without the light they emit. Black would not exist without the absence of visible light (or its absorption).

        By that reasoning, blacks and astronomy cannot exist without each other but simultaneously are completely unrelated to each other.

        Reply
        • Scott -  August 2, 2016 - 7:02 am

          I believe they were referring to the surname Black from the Harry Potter series.

          Reply
  5. Hugot -  July 17, 2015 - 6:15 am

    Hellenistic Greek ?

    Reply
    • FUENTES FUENTES -  October 19, 2015 - 2:39 pm

      nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

      Reply
      • Aft -  July 27, 2016 - 11:24 am

        Chillax. Are you old enough to be posting? If so, why do(es) your guardian(s) allow you to post such meaningless inanity, FF?

        Reply
  6. wolf tamer and iron miner -  March 12, 2014 - 3:28 am

    @traveling shoe:
    Depending on where you live, different constellations appear at different times. People in other parts of the world see the same constellations you’re seeing now at a different time of the year.

    Whenever I see anything about Sirius the star, I think of Sirius Black…

    Reply
    • Diana Goodrich -  July 18, 2015 - 7:40 am

      Hello!

      In fact some stars and thus constellations which are visible to people in the Northern hemisphere are never visible to people in the Southern hemisphere. And vice versa. Stars discernible to people in the North are blocked from visibility by the Earth for people in the South, depending on latitude or distance North of the equator. And again vice versa. At the equator nearly all stars should be visible except those overpowered by the sun. And those that line up with the axis of earth’s rotation will not be visible because the Earth intervenes. Those near, but off axis “enough”, will be dimmed by intervening atmosphere. When the sun lines up with a particular constellation, the sun lines up with the same constellation for anyone on earth. In the lands of the “midnight sun” in local summer the sun overpowers the constellation. In local winter the sun does not rise enough to do that for any constellation; but the northern constellations cannot be seen anyway.

      Reply
      • Diana Goodrich -  July 18, 2015 - 8:25 am

        To clarify — the northern constellations cannot be seen FROM THE SOUTH POLAR REGION. Nor the southern constellations seen from the North Polar region. [I beg your forgiveness.]

        Reply
  7. LOVE-LOVE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 13, 2010 - 7:05 am

    [...] seem to get away from BALLS — Whether Basket, Tar or Tennis — not to mention Rousseau’s Dog Days calls — What’s Love got to do with anything — We believe it is Most important — [...]

    Reply
    • markeisha -  May 31, 2016 - 11:49 am

      hello.

      Reply
  8. mrs.peapod -  July 12, 2010 - 5:42 pm

    My personal email name is “siriusone”. I chose it because “Sirius” IS the brightest star in the night sky and I LOVE the night sky! (and I’m bright!) Soooo, I reflect my love of astronomy AND the fact I’m rather scholarly and “serious.” A little double entendre for me!

    Reply
    • Sharla -  September 21, 2015 - 11:11 am

      mrs.peapod, I very much enjoyed your post.

      Reply
    • Podless -  July 27, 2016 - 11:26 am

      You may be bright, but you’re almost certainly not sharp. ;-)

      Reply
  9. budsdiana -  July 12, 2010 - 1:55 am

    Off Topic – I love this new part “HOT WORD” of the “Word of the Day” this is fairly new, right(?), bec. I didn’t notice this before. Everytime I read this section, I feel great, I learned a new thing (or got more confused), kudos to the team in-charge. Have a nice day!

    Reply
  10. Brian -  July 11, 2010 - 9:23 am

    You can’t see Sirius at night and shake your fist at it during the dog days. That the star rises with the sun and is therefore invisible is what makes these the “dog days of sumnmer.” Isn’t learning that the whole point of this article? What a sloppy ending.

    Also, it’s perfectly acceptable to start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but.’ I wish people would stop clinging to false, uppity rules of grammar, like the stupid kibosh on ending sentences with prepositions. Read your Lynne Truss!

    Reply
    • kris -  July 22, 2015 - 6:32 am

      Go shake your dirt somewhere else!

      Reply
    • Sommer Blumen -  July 27, 2016 - 11:28 am

      “sumnmer” isn’t a word.

      Reply
  11. Rich L. -  July 11, 2010 - 7:32 am

    I’m surprised that your blog about the dog days of summer failed to mention the word, canicular, which also refers to this period of time each year.

    Reply
    • Dee -  July 8, 2015 - 6:51 am

      “Canicular ” is mentioned and explained in paragraph 6!

      Reply
  12. Ronnie Wayne -  July 11, 2010 - 7:18 am

    Funny that you feature a picture of a Pug. From personal experience the Pug is a breed that doesn’t handle high termperatures very well. They over heat VERY EASILY.

    Reply
    • Mark Van Wagoner -  July 6, 2015 - 11:16 am

      I’m pretty sure the dog featured in your “Dog Star” blog, is a “Blue Healer”, part of the cattle dog family. Yes, a lot of them are blue, but over the years, some color has been bred out. They are wonderful animals!

      Reply
      • Jedda -  July 7, 2015 - 6:10 pm

        Since this is a dictionary website, may I please correct you. The dog is a “Blue Heeler” though, as many dog owners would attest, they would certainly make you feel better if you were a little blue!

        Reply
    • Jedda -  July 7, 2015 - 6:15 pm

      Looks a bit more like the Australian native dog called the dingo.

      Reply
    • Sommer Blumen -  July 27, 2016 - 11:33 am

      “termperatures” isn’t a word. The verb “overheat” comprises the words “over” and “heat” but not typically separately.

      Reply
  13. traveling shoe -  July 11, 2010 - 6:26 am

    Actually Sirius appears from January to March in the northern hemisphere. It’s part of the winter triangle. I am sure of this because I can only see Orion’s belt (just above Sirius) during the winter. So during ancient times. Sirius an Orion would appear during the summer, have the position of the stars changed that much?

    Reply
  14. Alan Turner -  July 11, 2010 - 2:15 am

    The word ‘BUT’ is a conjunction in grammar and cannot be used with a capital letter and therefore it cannot be used to begin a sentence. What do we find all the time in the text of a dictionary presentation?, exactly that. It doesn’t bother dogs.

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    Reply
    • Rodcat1 -  July 22, 2015 - 12:01 am

      Contrary to what Brian says, I agree with you that proper English grammar still matters, regardless (not irregardless) of how many others choose not to take the trouble to employ it!

      Reply
  15. skywriter -  July 10, 2010 - 9:50 pm

    Lovely feature for a dog lover

    Reply
    • Lillie -  June 3, 2016 - 10:27 am

      I hate dogs because they poop on my lawn

      Reply
      • Andrew -  July 8, 2016 - 9:52 am

        hey where do you put the kitty litter in the trash

        Reply
  16. Tess -  July 10, 2010 - 7:12 pm

    If Sirius rose with the sun, then why would the ancients wait until nightfall to shake their fists at it? So Sirius couldn’t see them…?

    Reply
  17. bubba bob -  July 10, 2010 - 4:27 pm

    Hot-digitty-dawg! Break out the beers and briquettes boys! Let’s burble a batch of Buds and burn a bunch of Bratwurst!!

    Reply
  18. harvey -  July 10, 2010 - 4:09 pm

    in fact, its roughly 17 degrees celsius. perfect blue sky (from my window, anyway!) little bit of breeze, and absolutely perfect for a picnic in the park!

    Reply
  19. harvey -  July 10, 2010 - 4:07 pm

    its not summer – its winter – brrrrrrrrrrrrrr. (in maryborough, qld, australia, that is.) our winter is like some others summer anyway – its not achully that cold. but its still winter!

    Reply
  20. GIANT EYE BALL | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 10, 2010 - 3:22 pm

    [...] We’d still lay off the Tar Balls — Unless they’re breaded and fried. — Rousseau licks his own because he can — Ever since Our Music Died. –>>Rupert [...]

    Reply
  21. poopsie -  July 10, 2010 - 11:37 am

    As a matter of fact, it was the Dogon tribe that initially discovered this constellation. Look it up.

    Reply
    • Jeff -  July 6, 2015 - 11:41 am

      Constellations are not “discovered.” They’re agreed upon.

      Reply

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