The Dog Days


It’s BALLS hot today. Sorry to be crude, but oh my god. It’s only July 7th and the dog days of summer have already arrived. We went from having a very late chilly and rainy spring lasting into the beginning of summer to staying at a steady 94 degrees for the past four days (for all you Celsius users, that’s 33 degrees. In the shade).

“New York was bad enough. By nine in the morning the fake, country-wet freshness that somehow seeped in overnight evaporated like the tail end of a sweet dream. Mirage-gray at the bottom of their granite canyons, the hot streets wavered in the sun, the car tops sizzled and glittered, and the dry, cindery dust blew into my eyes and down my throat.”

That first-page paragraph alone from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath convinced me to download it on my Kindle. A poet above all, her ability to describe a New York paralyzed by heat blew me away with her vividness. Unfortunately this acute ability to describe unnerving heat and city life carried over to her ability to describe in detail her psychotic break and downward spiral into suicide, so I haven’t been able to bring myself to finish the book.

As I walked out of my apartment today (and yesterday, and the day before that), I was hit with such intense heat that I thought I’d caught the end of an 18-wheeler truck’s exhaust fumes, but I hadn’t. It was just that hot. And I thought to myself, Well the dog days have certainly arrived early. And then I was like, Wait why are they called dog days? I made a mental note to investigate and have done just so.

The dog days have apparently arrived just on time, although I always associated the term more with August, when I used to have 4-hour volleyball pre-season in the most brutal of conditions.  “Its origin dates to the ancient Egyptians [and later, the Romans] who held that the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star, in the early morning sky added its heat to our suns to produce especially hot weather. Astronomically, the Egyptians calculated the dog days from July 3 to August 11. This added heat was believed to be the cause of seasonal flooding on the Nile.” (Chicago Tribune)

I used to think it just meant those sweltering days when you see the most miserable looking shaggy-dog just collapsed on the sidewalk, where no amount of “Fetch!” could get him to budge. Although it might not be the exact origin, I think it works too.

I realized in French a heat wave is a canicule, in Spanish it’s a canicula, equally stemming from the Latin caninus. In German its hundstage. 

This post is all-over the place. Can’t think about anything but catching a better breeze. Must drink water. Ice ice ice.

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in Language, Learning English, Musings, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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