November 10, 2005

the brightest dog of all

i had to observe an esl (english as a second language) class today. students were speculating about the meaning of the expression dog days. one student guessed that it might mean something like "happy days", which would make perfect sense...

when the true meaning was explained ("the hottest days of the year"), the students wondered where it came from. since my role was only to observe the class, i couldn't tell them. the expression has to do with the star sirius, and, according to the OED, it has been in use in english since the 14th century.
dog-days:
The days about the time of the heliacal rising of the Dog-star; noted from ancient times as the hottest and most unwholesome period of the year [OED]
sirius is a very bright star, the chief of the constellation canis major ("great dog").

[in the harry potter series, sirius black is the name of harry's godfather, an animagus who can transform himself into a big black dog.]

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