The ‘dog days’, which started this week, traditionally refer to the hottest month of the year. The Dutch language is rich in old weather terms and sayings about summer. Where do these come from? And do these wisdom still contain some truth?
The origin of the term ‘dog days’ comes from Greek mythology and refers to the constellation Big Dog. The hunter Orion from Thebes had a dog named Sirius. When Orion died, he went to heaven with his dog and was given a place there among the stars. Sirius the dog became a bright, highly visible star.
The dog days begin when the star Sirius rises with the sun and is then temporarily invisible. These are called the dog days. The dog days run approximately from July 20 to August 20 and are known for the warm sweltering weather with many insects.
In the Netherlands, however, many people associate the name ‘dog days’ with ‘dog weather’ – derived from the old Dutch word ‘storm’, which means bad weather or severe weather. “The one does not exclude the other: sweltering weather is often accompanied by thunder,” explains tradition expert Ineke Strouken.
“And whether it was hot or raining, it was in any case a period when farmers had to look after their food very well. There used to be no refrigerators or freezers and houses were of course not insulated. Food had to be deliberately stored in the basement tucked away because it spoiled very quickly. “
“Is the first July cold and chilly, that brings a lot of grain into the bag”
In the Dutch language, many old sayings, sayings and rebellions refer to the summer period, or ‘dog days’. An old Twente said, for example, ‘What people save for the mouth during the dog days is for the cat or dog’.
Other formerly often used farmer’s expressions about this period are ‘If there is only sunshine in July, we will certainly get golden wine’ or ‘If the first of July is chilly and weak, that will bring a lot of grain into the bag’.
Strouken never calls these kinds of sayings ‘weather fables’ because most statements contain a hard core of truth. “People didn’t have a weather app or KNMI yet, but they did try to make certain predictions over the years based on their ability to observe,” she explains. “This was not only true for farmers, but also for peddlers: if you could predict that it would rain very hard, you would not walk 20 kilometers to another city.”
“There are simply no connections between, for example, a hot summer and a cold or not winter”
Helga van Leur, weather lady of RTL
Experience and knowledge have been passed on from generation to generation
In the past, people relied on changes in nature or on the behavior of the animals they observed. “Folk science is not an exact science. But that certainly does not mean that it is nonsense,” emphasizes the tradition expert. Stock Photo – Stock Photo – Stock Photos
It is a matter of experience and knowledge passed down from generation to generation. As an example, Strouken gives the expressions ‘If the swallows fly high, then the weather is clean and dry’ and the variant ‘If the swallows fly low, we will get rain today’. “Farmers might not be able to explain exactly how the swallows flew high or low. But if you’ve seen a hundred times that a certain behavior is associated with a certain type of weather, then you can be pretty sure that it will be the 101st time so will be. “
‘I don’t see anything on Buienradar’
Meteorologist Helga van Leur recently wrote the book Day & Night, in which she and scientist Govert Schilling explain what you can learn by observing the sky and nature. “Those who study nature can often predict what will happen to the weather in the next two hours, based on what you see,” she explains. “We’ve been a little forgotten in recent decades to rely on our own powers of observation. I can’t stand people who say ‘I don’t see anything on Buienradar’ while a huge thundercloud comes flying in the distance.”
Many objections also contain a grain of truth from a scientific point of view, Van Leur argues – especially if they concern a short period in the future. “Certain changes in the air or behavior of animals may indicate changes in the weather in the very near future.” The weather woman mentions the sudden appearance of many frogs in a landscape as an example. “They like to move in a humid environment. So if you suddenly see more frogs, there is a good chance that there is moisture in the air and it will rain soon.”
“I can’t speak to people who say ‘I don’t see anything on Buienradar’ while a huge thundercloud is driving in the distance.” (Photo: Pro Shots)
You can predict, but not too far ahead
At the same time, meteorologically speaking, there are also many inconsistencies in spells and expressions, the RTL weather woman adds. The farmer’s saying ‘Morning red is water in the ditch’ (with a red sky in the morning rain comes) can be scientifically substantiated: a red sky in the morning indicates high humidity. “But that does not automatically mean that it will necessarily rain,” explains Van Leur.
“The evening red pendant, no distress on board,” a wisdom from shipping, makes no sense at all. The red light in the twilight is caused by dust particles, which say nothing about the chance of rain. ”
It becomes even more problematic when spell predictions try to reach beyond a few hours. “With high-quality meteorological equipment, we can only predict really well-founded for two weeks,” explains Van Leur. “There are simply no connections between, for example, a hot summer and a cold or not. So every spell that makes that connection is scientifically based on nothing.”
Tradition expert Strouken agrees immediately. “Old farm wisdoms like ‘Is it hot in July, then freezing at Christmas rich and poor’ or ‘The dog days bright and ready, mean a very good year’ sound nice, of course. But those conclusions seem mainly to be coincidental and not actually based on hard knowledge that farmers used to adjust their agricultural policy. ”