As we celebrated the first "official" day of summer a few weeks ago, it gave us pause to ponder WHAT exactly gave rise to phrases such as "the dog days of summer." So, let’s take a merry romp through the English language to uncover the origins of some common idioms!
To begin our exploration, we came across an oldie but goodie: "Close, but no cigar." During the early frontier days of our country when traveling carnivals rolled into town, then as now, the midway filled with games of skill proved popular attractions. However, instead of glow sticks, stuffed animals and other knick-knacks, winners would receive a big, fat cigar – quite the coveted prize in remote areas. As many of us have been told, the chances of actually "winning" at these early, rigged games led to a phrase heard all too often by the townfolk: "Close...but no cigar!"
But, you didn’t sign up for cigars, right? You got hooked by those "dog days of summer!" Surprisingly enough, the dog days really have absolutely nothing to do with actual dogs. The saying goes all the way back to ancient Egyptian times, when the rising of the "dog star" Sirius (yes, folks there is an actual star with that name and it’s not just a satellite radio broadcasting service! Hmmm, maybe there’s a connection there?) appeared on the morning horizon, alongside the sun. Officially this occurs on July 3 and lasts until August 11…which are indeed the hottest days of the year!
The Egyptian’s "Nile Star" or "Star Of Isis" was actually Sirius and its rising marked the beginning of their New Year. During this period, the River Nile would rise to nourish their crops and begin a year of prosperity. Contrary to some popular beliefs at that time, Sirius did not bring the great heats of summer, but just happened to coincide with the point in the year when the sun’s heat was most intense. Nonetheless, these days became known as the "dog days of summer!"
And while we’re on the subject of dogs, most of us have heard this phrase: "You’re barking up the wrong tree." This takes us back to more recent history, when hunting raccoon for their fur was quite the popular sport. Unfortunately, because of the raccoons' nocturnal activity patterns, it required these hunting expeditions to occur at night. The only way for hunters to actually locate their prey involved the sharp skills of highly-trained hunting dogs. Sent ahead of the party to follow the scent of the raccoon to the tree where they might be nesting, sometimes the dogs would literally "bark up the wrong tree." Interestingly enough, this phrase was first quoted in a book by our own Davy Crockett in 1833. Guess THAT'S how he got his ‘coonskin cap!
However, during the Civil War prisoners were not so lucky. Being gentlemen, these prisoners were "held" within a specified area of their captors’ camps by "a line drawn in the sand." But, it appears that’s where the civility ended, as this line became known as the "deadline" – since anyone who crossed it would be SHOT! Talk about a DEADLINE.
Now, sometimes folks have been known to "turn a blind eye" to both deadlines AND instructions…frequently resulting in some unpleasant consequences. Yet, the origin of this phrase actually resulted in a significant turn in world history!
During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, noted English Admiral Horatio Nelson received orders from his superiors to retreat during this naval conflict. Admiral Nelson, already a decorated hero for previous Royal Navy battlefield conquests, had also suffered physical losses during these earlier conquests. Having lost an arm to amputation as a result of a battle injury in 1797 and the sight in one of his eyes during a Napoleonic Wars campaign in 1794, he STILL continued to command until his untimely death at Trafalgar in 1805.
However, this early loss of his eye worked to his advantage during the fateful 1801 Copenhagen encounter. Since ship communications at the time consisted solely of messages sent via signal flags which could actually be viewed through the Captain’s telescope (no cell phones or satellite com centers for these warriors!), Admiral Nelson chose to ignore the command to retreat by simply placing his telescope to his blind eye! When called to account for his action – which ended in victory, by the way – he calmly answered, "I really did not see the signal." And thus, a blind eye led to yet another medal for the decorated admiral and historic figure.
And speaking of body parts, have you ever "pulled someone’s leg"? Let’s face it, being on the receiving end of a joke or prank can be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s nothing compared to the practice that gave rise to this particular phrase! Long ago, thieves lying in wait for roadside travelers had elaborate plans to ambush unsuspecting passing pedestrians. One of their band would be assigned "tripper-up" duties. Using a variety of tools or any available instrument, this person would actually use this to "pull their legs" out from under the travelers, so they could be robbed! Makes those practical jokes seem a LOT more harmless!
Now, entertaining as all this may have been, you’ve got to be wondering what any of this has to do with Dentistry, right? We’ve saved this for last…and it’s a GOOD one! Not only does this month bring the "dog days of summer," but it also represents one of the most popular months for weddings. We’ve all heard of the saying, "always a bridesmaid never a bride." Now this may appear self-explanatory, but HOW it gained popularity is quite interesting!
The phrase first arose from a Victorian-era tune entitled, "Why Am I Always A Bridesmaid?"...penned by Fred W. Leigh. However, this is NOT what brought it into popular culture! Entertainingly enough, Listerine coined the saying "Often a bridesmaid, never a bride" as the headline for a print ad published in 1924 accompanied by a picture of poor "Edna" – sorrowful at her unmarried situation. The cause for Edna’s lack of love? Halitosis – BAD BREATH! The cure for her lonely love life…Listerine, of course.
See, we actually DID connect this to Dentistry at Best Choice! Now while we’re quite confident your social life is just fine, bad breath CAN be an indicator of more serious oral health issues. So, why risk it?! After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. We certainly wouldn’t "pull your leg" about this and "turning a blind eye" is never a good idea when it comes to your smile. So take advantage of our nice air conditioning during these "dog days of summer" and schedule YOUR appointment today! And, that’s our "two cents’ worth"…hmmm, wonder where THAT one came from? Sounds like material for a sequel!