A recent post on The Task at Hand entitled “The Sirius Season” made me think of the uncommon word canicular, which exists in Spanish and English, and which means ‘pertaining to the so-called dog days of summer.’ Spanish refers to that hot part of the summer as the canícula, and in fact Canicula had been a Latin name for Sirius, a conspicuous star that is in conjunction with the sun during the part of the year in question, which the ancients believed made that period so hot. Sirius was (and still is) the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, literally ‘the larger dog’ (in comparison to Canis Minor, ‘the smaller dog’). That explains why the Romans referred to Sirius as Canicula, a diminutive of canis ‘a dog.’ Spanish can still use can to mean ‘dog,’ but perro has largely supplanted the classical noun.
The native English cognate of Latin canis is hound. English also borrowed Anglo-Norman *kenil, now spelled kennel, from Medieval Latin canile, based on canis.
© 2013 Steven Schwartzman