In my former HR days in media, I wrote an annual column to employees proclaiming and complaining about Dog Days. It became a tradition. Now it’s a habit. Having returned from sunny Philadelphia, flying back into constant Southern rain, I decided it’s time to check if Dog Days have arrived!
Lo, and behold, the answer is as controversial as the discomfort of THE DAZE! Here is what my research produced:
The Scranton Times-Tribune ran a letter to the editor of “The Press” dated August 31, 1914:
Sir: Will you kindly state…when “dog days’ begin. This is to settle an argument, and as I have found different books give a different date appeal to you for a final answer. If you cannot answer positively will you kindly tell me to what department at Washington I can apply for an answer? A.P.L. – Philadelphia
Reply: Dog days is a name given by the ancients to the twenty days before and the twenty days after the rising of the dog star, Sirius, with the sun. This period is at present reckoned from July 3 to August 11. It was for years the common opinion that this conjunction of the rising of the dog star with the rising of the sun was one of the causes of the extreme heat of Summer. This conjunction, however, does not occur at the same time in all altitudes, nor is it constant in the same region for a long period. Hence there is much variation as to the limits of dog days. It is a mere accident that the rising of Sirius with the sun occurs at the hottest time of the year. In time it will take place in the depths of Winter. The Egyptians began their year with the conjunction of the rising of the dog star and the sun, which event coincided with the flood of the Nile. If this answer is not satisfactory, write to the Astrophysical Observatory, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Two decades later, on July 16, 1935, the same newspaper ran this:
Dog Days, Bequeathed by Folklore, to Start Friday
Dog days, which are accredited to folklore rather than to science, are to start next Friday and continue for a period ranging from thirty to fifty-four days. The so-called ‘dog days’ period is supposed to represent the hottest period of summer, when dogs are said to be most apt to go mad and the dew is rumored to contain poison……
Ralph C. West, meteorologist of the local weather bureau in the Federal building, whose business it is to stick to science and facts rather than to legend, stressed the fact that the temperature early in July is frequently higher in this city than the readings recorded during the latter part of July or in August.
Like most legends, dog days is a controversial subject with the date on which they are scheduled to start being the principal subject of argument.
Capt. A.S. Hickey, acting superintendent of United States Naval Observatory at Washington, in an Associated Press dispatch, has the following to say on the subject:
“Dog days,” he said, “belong to folklore, not to science. Neither their beginning nor their end has anything to do with formal astronomy. They have their origin in this country in the oldest American folklore and according to that, they start when Sirius, the dog star, is ‘in conjunction’ with the sun.
“Custom – not astronomy – has fixed three dates for that event, July 3, July 19 or July 28. Some folks believe it should be one day, some another.
“So why not compromise? Why not pick the middle date?
“Dog days, which are particularly well known in the calendar of southern states, are supposed to last from thirty to fifty-four days, “Captain Hickey said. “They are the period of intensest heat, during which dogs are said to be most apt to go mad and the dew is rumored to contain poison.
“Seeing Sirius, the brightest of the fixed stars, they might have concluded that the sun when near it received added heat from it – hence hot days might have become Sirius or dog start days.”
Despite debates over decades, we’re still sweating, fanning, drinking and smothering in stagnant, thick air.
To be clear, Dog Days are here!
Previous Dog Days posts:
~ From the desk of Becky Morlok ~
Dedicated with love to our Springer Spaniel “Miss Scarlett” in photos above.
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