If you feel out of sorts this month, it may have something to do with the dog days of August. Actually, the sultry dog days began on July 3, which is the time of year when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun. According to the ancients, the combination of Dog Star and sun was bad news for anyone trying to keep a cool head -- for one was almost certain to sweat the details.
Few people today stop to think why dogs still have to take so much heat -- even in terms of our language. There's probably no worse insult than for someone to have been involved in a dogfight, except perhaps to have lived a dog's life. We shun people who put on the dog, and if, as a swimmer, one can do only a dog paddle, we're apt to laugh behind his back.
The same holds true for the fisherman who is adept in catching only dogfish. We don't send our sons and daughters to college in order to be a dog catcher, nor do we want them to be dogmatic in their studies. Dogbane is a herb conspicuous for its bitter taste, and if you buy an automobile that's a dog, you know you've got a loser.
When we get angry, we say doggone, and some middle-age Americans recall that a dogface, ascribed to enlisted men in the infantry in World War II, was nothing to write home about. Both doggeral and doggery suggest verse and behavior that can be crude or even surly. And no husband wants to be in the doghouse.
A dogleg curve can cause even the best driver to wipe out when driving, and dog Latin will surely put you at the back of the class. And if you're assigned the dogwatch at work, you know you'll be wiling away the nice part of the evening at your desk.
No one likes a dog in the manger, namely, a person who selfishly keeps things so that others can't use them. Nor does anyone want to go to the dogs. When you wear tight shoes or do a lot of walking, your dogs are almost certain to hurt. And the worst pessimist in the world is the person who does things in a dog-eat-dog context.
Of course, I could go on with more examples of man's linguistic inhumanity to canines. But to tell you the truth, I'm dog-tired.