by Newt Harlan
The dictionary defines ďDog DaysĒ as: 1: the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere. But where does this come from?
The ancients studied the stars and charted them as they appeared in the night sky. In order to identify these stars and their position, they used ďpicturesĒ of things they saw in the connect-the-dots formed by the positions of various stars in the constellations. They saw images of bears, crabs, archers, twins, bulls and many others, including dogs. (Canis Major and Canis Minor) The brightest star in Canis Major or big dog just happens to be Sirius, which is also the brightest star in the night sky. In fact Sirius is so bright in the winter sky that the ancients thought it actually teamed with the sun to heat the earth. Due to the position of the earth in conjunction with the sun, Sirius or the ďdog starĒ isnít visible in the night skies during the summer. The ancients thought this was because during the summer months the dog star joined with the sun, making the earth hotter during this period -- hence ďDog Days of Summer.Ē
I was surprised to learn the term had nothing to do with real dogs. Dogs have been around for so long our language has picked up many words, terms and phrases either because of them or alluding to them. Here are a few:
∑ Gone to the dogs--taken a severe turn for the worse either in health, business or social habits.
∑ That dog wonít hunt--thatís a bad idea or a damned lie.
∑ Hair of the dog that bit you--the drink you drink the morning after to get over the drinks you drank the night before. Supposedly this will cure your hangover or at least put you in a condition so youíll no longer notice it.
∑ Dog tired--very tired. Have you ever noticed how tired an old dog is after hunting or working cows all day?
∑ Sick as a dog--I think this is supposed to mean very sick, but most sick dogs Iíve seen donít show it too much, in fact they donít seem to get any sicker than other animals like horses, cows and pigs.
∑ Dog and pony show--this is an old salesman term, which means putting on a ďfancyĒ presentation for clients, almost like the dog and pony act in a circus.
∑ My dogs are barking--this has several meanings. 1. My feet are hurting. 2. My feet are stinking. 3. I suspect that this person might just be lying.
∑ In the doghouse--in big trouble. I donít know how Iíd handle being in the doghouse around home. BJ doesnít have a doghouse since he spends the night inside, so I donít know if I got in the doghouse if I could still sleep inside or would have to camp out in the back yard. Iím not really anxious to find out.
∑ A barking dog never bites--you hear this quite often around beer joints when some olí boy gets a belly full of beer and starts thinking heís 6í5Ē and bullet proof and starts running his mouth about how bad he is. Generally itís the barking dog that gets bit.
∑ Mean as a junkyard dog--pretty darn mean.
∑ Three dog night--this phrase comes from our Australian friends where the degree of cold during a winter night is measured by how many dogs it takes in your sleeping bag to sleep warm.
∑ If you lie down with dogs, youíll get up with fleas--if you associate with bad people, youíll acquire their bad habits. (Donít mention this to the Aussies.)
∑ Dogleg left or right--a fairly sharp turn to the left or right.
∑ Dogs donít eat dogs--disreputable folks will not harm other disreputable folks, kind of like honor among thieves.
∑ Itís a dog eat dog world out there--itís a vicious world, ruthless competition or self-interest.
∑ Itís a dogís life--itís an easy life. (Donít ask me how a dogís life can be easy after running around in a dog eat dog world all day.)
∑ Itís a dogís life--itís a wretched existence. (I suppose it depends on which dog weíre talking about.)
∑ A dogís chance--not very good odds.
∑ Every dog has his day--each of us in his turn will get his just rewards, good or bad.
∑ Call off the dogs--stop some objectionable line of conduct or actions or questions. This comes from hunting when dogs following the wrong scent or having treed the quarry are called off.
∑ Quick as a dog can lick his dish/ balls/ass (depending on whoís doing the describing)--pretty darn quick.
∑ Big dog--important person.
∑ Top dog--boss, leader, head honcho, jefe.
∑ If you canít run with the big dogs, stay on the porch--donít try to participate in activities that your ass pocket wonít carry. (Donít try to do things you canít afford.)
∑ Fighting like cats and dogs--having a very rowdy quarrel or some pretty good fisticuffs.
∑ Bird dog--to follow someone around. To walk behind a young lady with a particularly active rear end when she walks.
∑ Let sleeping dogs lie--donít bring up topics that have been sources of disagreement in the past. (Whoever said this has never had a hound decide to share their bed, then decide in the middle of the night that YOU were taking up too much room.)
∑ You canít teach an old dog new tricks--old farts like me are used to doing things in a certain way and canít or wonít change.
∑ Raining cats and dogs--raining hard.
∑ Dogged me--followed me around, bothered me.
∑ Dogged my ass--the supervisor paid close attention to my work.
∑ Dog it or dogginí it--to be lazy, not working, sitting in the shade or leaning on a shovel while others work.
∑ Dog-faced liar--a person who is known to deal in falsehoods.
∑ Tail wagging the dog--folks not suited to make decisions dictating policy, which causes things to go awry.
As you see, our friend and companion, scavenger and protector, the dog has made our language far richer by his presence. Iíd tell you more, but right now Iíve got to go see a man about a dog.
Newt tells us about himself:
I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittiní distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
I'm Southern to the bone. The sound of ďDixieĒ being played gives me goose bumps and I stand and remove my hat. My yard dog, B.J., controls the squirrels, cats, meter readers and peddlers around my place. Iíve picked cotton by hand, plowed behind a mule, churned butter, shelled back-eyed peas, and for the first 12 years of my life, went without shoes from April until October. Several of my friends regularly hold conversations with mules, but as of yet I canít get the danged mules to answer me. I think grits are as much a part of breakfast as bacon, eggs and cathead biscuits. I think ainít is a perfectly good word and donít plan to quit using it just because some damnyankee dictionary writer arbitrarily thinks it ainít.
I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.
Want to read more of Newtís stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Olí Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
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