What even are the Dog Days of Summer?
Now that we are moving out of them, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on just what the dog days of summer even are!It's a term that seems to start getting thrown around every summer somewhere in the middle of July when the weight of the sweltering air can be felt sagging onto your skin, when people are in a constant state of perspiration and in a seemingly non-stop pursuit of beverages cold enough to form sweat beads, all amid the round-the-clock soundtrack of whirring fans and AC units.
It's probably not you or even your friends who use the term "Dog Days of Summer". It’s probably that one weird uncle who loves cliche phrases, inappropriate jokes and classic rock, or the local TV personalities and Radio DJs, maybe that cheesy liquor store owner down the street. But either way, by July and August, you simply can’t escape the phrase.
The light is a bit different during these Dog Days of Summer. The sky maintains a sort of faded blue as if it’s simply too hot to hold richer colors. The water follows suit drifting between light greens, soft grays and pale blues, taking on the perception of being clearer and offering greater visibility even when it isn’t and it doesn’t. Its just warmer, almost too warm. And though the June Gloom will have been gone for nearly a month, a new kind of haze floats above the beaches as if the land itself is sweating.
Wetsuits are gone. So are parking spots. So are any unclaimed plots of sand amidst the throngs of tourists who have flocked to the beaches for what seems a temporarily permanent 3 month vacation. But even with all of this, its still one of my favorite times of the year. And yet… I have no idea WHAT it actually is! As in, what defines it. Let alone where the name comes from.
Now prior to using the ‘ol google machine to peep The Dog Days Of Summer Wiki Page, I had a couple origin theories that seemed plausible. …sort of.
#1) It’s that (non-specific) time of the summer where dogs get so hot that they can’t do anything so they just lay around in the shade like we all wish we could do. Simple. Non specific. But also, not right. It IS that time, but that’s not why its called what its called.
#2 It has something to do with Dogtown and Z-Boys? Like maybe this was when they really shined as a group, or when the Zephyr Skate team formed or when Dogtown was at its craziest. Again, probably all kind of true, but a classic case of correlation rather than causation. As a side note, if you haven’t seen Stacey Parelta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys movie, you really really really should.
#3 My third thought was maybe it has something to do with the constellations and the way a particular dog shaped cluster of stars may correlate to the sun’s rising and setting during a particular part of the summer... Kidding! Of course I didn’t think that!!! But that’s what is actually going on!
According to National Geographic the origin of the phrase has nothing to do with actual dogs or late 70s competitive skateboarding teams.
It was actually the ancient Greeks noting a time when the “Dog Star” Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun in late July.
The Greeks thought of the constellation Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare. The star Sirius is the dog’s nose; the Greeks called it the “dog star.”
As an aside, if you haven't read Dog Stars by Peter Heller, it is a remarkable good post apocalyptic (non-zombie) survival story. I highly recommend it. But I digress...
The official time frame of the dog days of summer, then, are when the Dog Star and the Sun Star (also called "The Sun") are rising together. In 2018 those dates line up to be July 22 to August 23. Or at least that is the case in Finland where one is able to keep a closer eye on the nose of the Dog.
There we go! Mystery solved! You may lay your head to rest tonight knowing that you have accumulated just a tiny bit more knowledge that is virtually useless, which is great to have if you want to share useless knowledge with other people who appreciate it.
I guess the only question left to answer is… Why then, “A hair of the dog that bit you”. But alas, a question for another time.