Dog Days and Foul Women

By Maggie Beamguard

Insider Editor

They’ve arrived – the dog days of summer. What a phrase.

It conjures in my mind an image of a pack of canines lying listless under a porch while a farmer rocks in a chair above chewing tobacco and staring into the distance.

We know what the dog days mean: Sweltering heat; thick, humid air vibrating with chirping insects; afternoon thunderstorms offering momentary reprieve before creating a more oppressive sauna once they dissipate; general stickiness.

Even the ancients referred to this season of scorching temperatures as the dog days. According to etymologists, the concept has roots in ancient Egypt and Greece and astrology. The rise of the Dog Star, or Sirius, in the early morning hours of midsummer earned an association with the hottest days of the year as well as the summer flooding of the Nile. And no small amount of misery. 

The Greek poets even wrote about it. One named Alcaeus advised everyone to drink wine because with the star’s arrival “women are at their foulest, but men are weak since they are parched in the head and the knees.” (So claims Wikipedia).

Undoubtedly, one among the foul women when the heat index climbs above 95 is me. Consider that your fair warning.

Some people live for the dog days. They can’t get enough of them so they move to places like Florida. I like mine in limited doses. My people hail from the British Isles and my constitution and disposition are more suited to the dank cold of the Scottish highlands.

If we can’t escape this torrid season, at least we have modern coping mechanisms that would astonish Plato and Cleopatra.

We have refrigerated air and oscillating fans. We have Frigidaires stocked with Fla-Vor-Ice pops and homemade peach ice cream. We have water sprinklers to run through and easily accessible lake, pool and waterpark recreation. 

We have mojitos, cold beer, refreshing lemonade, and here south of the Mason-Dixon line we have sweet iced tea. 

Perhaps nothing goes down better on a hot day than nature’s champagne, good old H2O – bonus points if it comes directly from a watering hose.  

Alacaeus was right, when the dog days of summer hit, we all require a refreshing drink.

This was never more apparent to me than the day my father arrived home from work one blistering summer day. He had been stuck in his old, unairconditioned Chevette on the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina in a two-hour traffic jam.

He burst through the front door and aggressively lumbered toward the kitchen, every bit a man in the desert seeking an oasis.

Grabbing a Tupperware lemonade pitcher from the corner of the kitchen island, he started guzzling. After several deep gulps he seemed to register our screams. 

“It’s bleach! IT’S BLEACH!”

His relief was all a mirage. My mother was on a cleaning spree that day and had mixed some Clorox with water in that pitcher. Because, you know, that seems like the most obvious container for a chemistry experiment.

When dear old dad finally tasted what he had been swallowing, he gagged. And we rang poison control. 

Luckily, the only troubling outcome from the indiscriminate bleach consumption was a Hollywood-style digestive cleanse. Do not try this at home, kids. 

Dad maintained for years that the poison-disguised-as-lemonade was mom’s way of keeping him on his toes by showing him what she was capable of doing. Foul women, indeed.

When the dog days come for us, a tall, refreshing drink remains the best and oldest antidote. I raise my glass of non-chlorinated lemonade to you. Stay cool.

Contact Maggie Beamguard at