Thursday, July 27, 2006

Word Of The Week

canicule

This is an appropriate word of the week in that we are experiencing a heat wave here in France. In fact, it’s one of the longest stretches of high temperatures on record, according to what I’ve heard on La Chaine Météo.

La canicule is, of course, a heat wave. I’ve known this word since 2003 when I moved to France at the start of the famous heat wave of that year. What I didn’t know, however, was why a heat wave is called a canicule.

Thanks to our current houseguest, Charles-Henry, I learned that the word has its origins in the latin name for the primary star in the constellation called Canis Majoris, or Big Dog. That star is called Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the Greek Seirios which means “glowing” or “scorcher.” The latin name for the star is canicula, or little dog. Supposedly, this is also the origin for the expression “the dog days of summer.” (image from Wikipedia)

This particular constellation rises and sets with the sun from July 22 through August 22, the period of hottest temperatures around the Mediterranean basin. Hence, the time that corresponds to this movement of canicula across the sky has come to be known, as least in France, as la canicule.

P.S. - Word Of The Week apologizes for not showing up for work on Wednesday. He has been suffering from the extreme heat of la canicule and lost track of time.

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