Dog Days of Summer – Barking up the wrong weather vane

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Ray Hudson

You Don’t Say – Vol 32 by Ray Hudson

Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

We’ve had a hot dry summer so far and we’ve got weeks to go before the seasons change, even if the weather doesn’t.

What caught my attention for this week was a comment I heard where someone referred to the extreme heat as being the dog days of summer.

Given the way the recent heat wave stripped much of my energy and ambition to do very much outside of keeping cool, I can understand how dogs, which can’t cool themselves as efficiently as people become immovable lumps in the shade.

But surprise! When I researched the source of this, the overheated canine aspect although coincidental, was not the real origin for the phrase.  It does involve a reference to a dog, but it’s a celestial one, specifically Sirius, the canine companion of Orion. That’s the constellation that looks like a ‘K.’

Sirius, also called the Dog Star, rises and sets with the sun for a month or two during our summer and is thus not visible.  In ancient times, the ‘dog days’ comment referred to this time of the year.  It also turns out to be time when our furry friends also become hot dogs.

Still on the subject of dogs (and cats) I tackled the origin of “raining cats and dogs.”  Taken on the meaning of the words, this makes no sense at all.  One reference I checked postulated that it might have come from medieval times when sanitation was non-existent and a heavy rain might wash any animal carcasses into the streets.  But hey, that would mean it would be raining cats, dogs, rats, squirrels, with occasional showers of cows.  Not a likely origin. The one I like is simply a mispronunciation of the original descriptive which had nothing to do with animals.  An archaic French word, catadoupe, coming from a Greek word, catadupa means cataract or waterfall.  If anyone has experienced a tropical downpour, the waterfall analogy fits, and it’s not a big stretch to corrupt catadupa to (a waterfall of) cats and dogs (cat-a-doup).

If you’re not feeling well, you are  “under the weather.”  Well we’re all under the weather, but the term connected to feeling unwell comes from our nautical roots.  If your roots (sea legs) aboard ship weren’t too well established, you’d end up being seasick, and since you’d be of little use to the crew, you’d be sent below decks to suffer and/or recuperate.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the phrase; take a raincheck.  Unlike the hardy folks who play soccer and rugby in any weather, sometimes the more foul the better, baseball is not a game tolerant of atmospheric moisture.  In the 1880’s the American national game developed the raincheck a way to compensate spectators when the weather caused the cancellation of a game.  It subsequently entered the language as a euphemism for something that you cannot attend now, but would like to at a later time. Example: I can’t make lunch today, but can I take a rain check (can we do it another time?).

Speaking of lunch…………..  

If you’d like to share any language issues, irritations, comments or gotcha moments, please send them to ray@swmediagroup.ca