August 06, 2007

#01-002: The "Dog Days" are Here

head of a dog superimposed on an August calendar page

Note: Like #01-001 and the next three through #01-005, this was submitted in August of 2007 as I was applying to write lessons for the Shenzhen Daily. It was HOT, so all of my initial columns were about the heat!

Get Ready: Do you know why some people call the hot weather in August "The Dog Days"?

Whenever I teach about idioms, it seems that all of my students know this example:

"It's raining cats and dogs!"

But there is another, less common, weather expression about dogs. In August, many areas in the northern hemisphere experience what are called "the dog days of summer." Many people think this is merely a picturesque expression. You can easily imagine dogs lying in the shade with their tongues hanging out. (I see this happening all the time!)

But in fact, this expression (like so many English idioms) has its roots in a folk belief.

The brightest star in the northern sky (aside from the Sun, that is, which is also a star) is Sirius. In ancient times, people used to imagine that the stars created pictures, called constellations. One of these is Canis Major, "the Great Dog," and because Sirius is the most notable star in this constellation, it is called "The Dog Star."

This star is so bright that the ancients thought we could feel its heat. This is not possible, since the star is 8.6 light-years (50,556,178,209,379 miles, or about 81,362,282,064,195 kilometers) away. Nevertheless, these people noticed that in the hottest part of summer, the Dog Star rose and set about the same time as the sun.

And so they thought that the Dog Star was adding its heat to that of the sun, creating the Dog Days.

Now, in modern times, the phrase has a new connotation. The American stock market can be a bit slow in summer; stock analysts also refer to this time as "the Dog Days." They may just be using the old expression for this time of year; but it could also be because a poorly-performing stock is called "a dog"!

So, this August, stay cool during the Dog Days!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. ancients
  2. connotation
  3. constellations
  4. hemisphere
  5. light-years
  6. picturesque
  7. roots
  8. stock analysts

  1. origins; beginnings
  2. groups of stars that seem to make pictures in the sky (if we use our imaginations)
  3. the secondary meaning of a word, often expressing a feeling associated with it
  4. people who lived long ago
  5. people who make predictions about the future performance of a company
  6. charming to look at; quaint
  7. the time it takes light to travel one year; about 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion kilometers
  8. half of the earth

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 6, 2007

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. c; 3. b; 4. h; 5. g; 6. f; 7. a; 8. e.