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Even the Romans had their dog days of summer

Michigan Radio

Michiganders didn't really get much of a chance to refer to "the dog days of summer" this year, but what you might not realize is that the expression didn't come from sizzling weather, but from the stars.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan says people have come up with some very good explanations that relate to dogs on scorching days.

"In fact, the expression goes way back," says Curzan. "It's translated from Latin, and refers to when the Romans associated the hot days in July and August with a period of time when the dog star, Sirius, rose in close conjunction with the sun.

"One theory was that it was the combination of the stars that was making it so hot."

But people also use "dog days" to mean the end of something, as in the dog days of someone's career. 

"Because dog days are so hot, they were often seen as an unhealthy time, or a bad omen, and it's gone from there to being any bad time or a time when something is in decline."

Contrast that with "salad days," which originated with Shakespeare.

"Salad days are days of youthful inexperience, as opposed to days of decline," Curzan says. "It first shows up in Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra says, 'My salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood.'"

We quote Shakespeare a lot without giving him credit, Curzan says.

"In a pickle, tongue-tied, a blinking idiot, to set your teeth on edge, to stand on ceremony, the long and short of it are now everyday expressions."


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