Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n.pl. The hot, sultry period of summer between early July and early September.
  • n.pl. A period of stagnation.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The days between early July and early September when Sirius (the Dog Star) rises and sets with the Sun.
  • n. hot, lazy days
  • n. A period of inactivity, laziness, or stagnation.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • A period of from four to six weeks, in the summer, variously placed by almanac makers between the early part of July and the early part of September; canicular days; -- so called in reference to the rising in ancient times of the Dog Star (Sirius) with the sun. Popularly, the sultry, close part of the summer; metaphorically, a period of inactivity.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • A part of the year about the time of the heliacal rising of the dog-star.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the hot period between early July and early September; a period of inactivity

Etymologies

Translation of Late Latin diēs canīculārēs, Dog Star days (so called because the Dog Star (Sirius) rises and sets with the sun during this time) : Latin diēs, pl. of diēs, day + Late Latin canīculārēs, pl. of canīculāris, of the Dog Star.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
1538, from Latin dies caniculares, translated from Ancient Greek; originally from the hot summer days (in the Northern Hemisphere) when Sirius (the Dog Star), in Canis Major, rose and set with the Sun (heliacal rising). The Greeks also made reference to these "dog days", and for the ancient Egyptians, c.3000 B.C.E., the rising of this star coincided with the summer solstice and the start of Nile flooding. The "dog" association apparently began here, as the star's hieroglyph was a dog, a watchdog for the flooding of the Nile. (Wiktionary)

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