Most of you have probably heard the phrase "Dog Days of Summer," and perhaps - if you have absolutely nothing more important to think about - you have wondered when and where that phrase came about.
No? Too bad. In the interest of my lifelong pursuit of useless information, and the subsequent disseminating of same, I'm going to enlighten you on that very subject.
The phrase Dog Days, or "the dog days of summer," refers to the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In the northern hemisphere, they usually fall between early July and early September. The actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate. Dog Days can also define a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant, or marked by dull lack of progress.
The term "Dog Days" was used by both the ancient Greeks, as well as the ancient Romans. The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius, the Dog Star, rose just before, or at the same time, as sunrise (helical rising), which is no longer true, owing to precession of the equinoxes. The ancients reportedly sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days, to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.
Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies," according to Brady's Clavis Calendarium, 1813.
In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days extended from July 24 through August 24 (or, alternatively, July 23-August 23). In many European cultures (German, French, Italian), this is still the period considered the time of the Dog Days.
The Old Farmer's Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as "the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the ancient helical (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year when rainfall is at its lowest levels."
What more reliable source could there be than the Old Farmer's Almanac? That's it - the Dog Days officially ended a couple of days ago. Hooray!
Now we can get on with my favorite time of the year - late summer and early autumn. Cooler temps, gorgeous leaves (until they fall and need raking, that is), the baseball pennant races and post-season, the start of the football season, the start of a new school year ...
The fall used to mean the start of the new television season, too, but these days, that seems to be an ongoing, year-round event, spread among a lot more television networks than we used to have in the pre-cable, pre-satellite dish days. Even if you still just have access to the "major" networks, they, too, continually stop and start new series, or move them about the schedule to different days and times. No, the fall season really doesn't mean much in television anymore. Many new shows come and go before I even realize they were ever here. As "the Boss" once sang, "57 Channels and Nothin's On."
Here's hoping you all got through the "dog days," and can enjoy the upcoming fall season. Go for a walk, catch some pigskin action, root the Yankees on to a World Series victory ... but don't procrastinate, because before we all know it, sure as I'm sitting here, "old man winter" will be here, because, after all, this is Iowa, where we basically have just two seasons, hot (summer) and cold (winter), with only very brief visits from spring and fall. So don't blink, or you'll miss them.