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What are the 'dog days' of summer?

Meteorologist Sarah Spivey explains history behind well-known phrase

SAN ANTONIO – Saying that we're in the "dog days" of summer usually means long stretches of hot, dry weather. But did you know that this phrase has a history dating back to Ancient Greece and Rome?

More than 2,000 years ago, when people relied on stars for life lessons and guidance, the constellation Canis Major shined brightly during the scorching summer months and captured the attention of the ancients. 

Translated from Latin to English, Canis Major means "the greater dog," and if you use your imagination, you can see how the constellation looks a bit like a pup.

People who spoke Latin began to call the days when they could see Canis Major in the night sky as "dies caniculares," or the "dog days." Eventually, the phrase was translated into English and passed on for many generations.

Over long periods of time, however, constellations change their position in the night sky. Today, thousands of years later, Canis Major is actually not visible in South Texas during summer.

In fact, if you want to observe the constellation, you have to wait until the cooler months, September through April, but it's doubtful that people will start to call stretches of cold, dark days the "dog days of winter."

So next time you complain about the "dog days of summer," you can appreciate the fact that you're speaking the language of people who lived over 2,000 years ago!


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