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Column

GUEST COLUMN: The "dog days" of summer

Language matters – it's time to be canine correct

I have a great love for the morning newspaper. In my youth, I looked forward to rushing out of the house to fetch the newspaper. Now, sadly, the news carrier leans the newspaper against the front door, meaning my finely honed retrieval skills are no longer needed.

I mention my love for the newspaper because I’m usually quite loving and upbeat. In fact, I’m proud to have developed a reputation for being a sure thing when folks need a pick-me-up. No matter what kind of day I’ve had and despite not being as young as I once was, I have boundless good will for everyone ... even for the chronically self-absorbed and boring (you know who you are).

But today, I’m not feeling especially loving and upbeat because I have a bone to pick.

Language matters!

I feel the heat and humidity just like everyone else, but do we have to call these horridly oppressive days the “dog days” of summer? I know from watching the Weather Channel that this expression has nothing to do with real dogs and everything to do with the hottest weeks of the summer coinciding with the dawn rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, but most folks are not as informed as I am and have some half-baked belief that the hottest days of the year are called dog days either because the heat makes them feel dog-tired or because real dogs have some sort of heat malady with all that fur and panting.

And why shouldn’t folks expect a dog-negative meaning to the dog days of summer – think of other negative dog words and expressions. There’s doggone it, which is essentially cursing (people curse; dogs lick) and dogmatic, which means arrogantly inflexible (politicians yelling at each other are dogmatic; dogs roll over and play dead for a bacon bite). And there’s my least favorite: dogging it. When’s the last time a dog gave anything other than 110% ... chasing squirrels, fetching sticks, showing everlasting adoration even while being ignored? If everyone in the Sauk Valley worked with the eagerness and vigor of a dog, potholes would be nonexistent in our streets, lawns would never be overgrown, and business output would skyrocket. The Sauk Valley would be a utopia!

And then there’s the joke. Yes, THE joke, since it is the only joke my housemate knows:

What did the three-legged dog say when he went into the bar?

Have you seen the man who shot my paw?

Not only is this joke insipidly lame, it is also cruel. Do we not care about the poor dog? Image his agony of losing a leg and having his father shot. That dog should be getting canine psychotherapy and not looking for answers in a bar.

So, yes, language matters even when attempted humor is involved. It’s time for people to replace being politically correct with being canine correct.

Dogs didn’t ask to be domesticated more than 20,000 years ago to be humanity’s best friend. Dogs gave up the call of the wild because humans needed so much help. How many Timmys would have drowned in wells if not for the Lassies of the world? How many Rin-Tin-Tins have been battlefield heroes? How many guide dogs are assisting folks every day?

Could any other domesticated animal do any of this?

Timmy would have perished in that well long before a cat had decided to stop licking its fur. A pot-bellied pig, you can bet your bacon, would not serve quite the same function as a dog on the battlefield. A goldfish would have severe limitations as a guide pet.

Let’s be canine correct with our language. Given how lethargic and ill-tempered humans are during these hottest days of the summer, these days more accurately should be called the cat days of summer.

Reynolds Hellmich is an 8-year-old English springer spaniel, whose housemate is David Hellmich, president of Sauk Valley Community College, rural Dixon.

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