The Word of the moment – Canicule

France is in the grip of a heatwave right now.  The temperature in the shade gets up to 35C (95F) in the afternoons, and it’s over the 50C (120F) mark if you’re out in the sun.

The French press were all talking about the vague de chaleur, which translates literally as ‘wave of heat’, but they also used the word canicule.  The meaning was obvious from the context, but I wondered where the word canicule comes from (I’m a nosy curious person).  Canis is dog in Latin, so does canicule have something to do with dogs? I wondered.

I looked it up.  It’s interesting – well, dammit, I found it interesting.

La Canicule is the French name for Sirius, the dog star.  It’s also the name for the period during which Sirius rises and sets with the sun – July 24th to August 24th.  Well, that’s the time during which the highest temperatures will normally happen, so the heatwave you’d have at that time was referred to as La Canicule, and now it’s accepted to mean a heatwave at any time.  A bit like the English expression ‘dog days,’ actually.

If you want to thank me for clarifying that, you’ll find me in the pool.


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