COLUMNISTS

Origin of Dogs Days of Summer a bit surprising

Jerry Apps
The dogs have it right during the Dog Days of Summer

I remember as a kid, when our farm dog, Fanny, had a favorite place to rest during the hot, and humid days of late July and August. If you wanted to find her, she usually was resting under the big elm tree that stood near our kitchen porch.

“Fanny seems to like that spot,” I said, stating the obvious.

“Yup,” Pa would say. “It’s the Dog Days of Summer.”

The other day, when the temperature hit 92, and the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife, as my mother would say, I did a little digging to find more about the Dog Days of Summer. Where and when the phrase originated. To my surprise, originally the phrase had nothing to do with dogs.

Ancient Greeks saw Sirius, a bright star they called the “dog star,” which this time of the year was a bright star that appeared to rise alongside the sun beginning in late July and continuing on through August. According to these Greeks, the combined power of the “Dog Star” and the sun made this the hottest time of the year.

The truth of the matter. The heat of summer has nothing to do with Sirius, the dog star, regardless of how bright it is. The Earth’s tilt is the cause of the heat of summer.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Earth’s tilt causes the sun’s rays to hit at a more direct angle. Also, the days are longer allowing more time for the sun to warm things up. Additionally, climate change is affecting the heat of summer as well, but that is a topic for another time.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: The dogs have it right. During the Dog Days of Summer, they know to find a cool place to rest.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to www.jerryapps.com.