DEAR READER: 'Dog days of summer' arrive, but the fault is in the stars

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:05 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 12, 2014

COLUMBIA — Without fail, this summer's greetings included remarks about how wonderful the weather was. "Can you believe this is July? In Missouri?"

Well, no. I couldn't. But I also had a strong suspicion that such mild temperatures and limited humidity wouldn't last. And it didn't.

The "dog days of summer" have finally arrived. The phrase has been popping up more and more in the last week or so when the thermometer was kissing 100 degrees. The more often I heard it, the more I realized that I didn't really know what the phrase means. As a child, I thought it was referring to the barnyard dogs who retreated to every available inch of shade in July and August as they gave up their habit of running after passing cars on the dusty gravel road.

According to, "Dog Days is the name for the most sultry period of summer, from about July 3 to Aug. 11. Named by observers in countries bordering the Mediterranean, the period was reckoned as extending from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction of Sirius (the dog star) and the sun."

So there's the dog — the brightest star in the summer sky.

The phrase was used by both the Greeks and Romans, who apparently rued the 40 steamy days "that were plagued with disease and discomfort."

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies." according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813. (Phrensies, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is an obsolete variant of frenzies.)

That seems to be a succinct definition for these torturously hot days. I hope that at least the dogs can find some shade.  

There were three participants in the Show Me the Errors contest for July. The winner is Karen Mitchell. She will receive a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of "Yes, I Could Care Less" by Bill Walsh. We invite you to join in the contest by filling out the entry form that can be found at the bottom of every article. It's simple to participate: If you find an error, go the entry box, type it in and send it along. We'll take it from there, and your name will be entered in the contest drawing.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at To lighten up the dog days of summer, here's a little bar joke involving grammar from Timothy McSweeney's daily humor website: A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to drink.

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