By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
There are hundreds of phrases and sayings that are inspired by our love for animals. It can be said that most of them play an important role in our society. The meaning of most of these phrases are pretty easy to figure out. We have, “the tail wagging the dog”, “when pigs fly”, “wild goose chase”, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” and the ever popular misconception, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.
There are a few sayings, which include animals that actually date back to the 1600s, or before whose meaning is far less clear.
“The Dog Days of Summer”, is a saying which refers to the days in July and August that are so hot and humid that dogs are unable to move. They just lie under the shade of an old oak tree, spent and energy-less. Right? No, not right. I found out recently when I was asked, by a friend, if I knew the real meaning of the term. I responded by reciting the theory that made all the sense in the world to me. Nope, she said. It is the period of time that Sirius, the dog- star, rises at the same time as the sun. True, it is recognized officially from July 3 through August 11, which is normally a hot and humid period of time, especially in Southwest Florida. So, it really has nothing to do with a dog’s lack of energy.
That sort of tarnishes the phrase, “weather not fit for a dog” and really erases the old belief that the heat of summer is the time when dogs can go mad, as believed years ago when the dreaded rabies virus was a very serious concern.
This made me wonder about other animal related sayings. Are they really animal related at all? The two that have always bothered me, personally, are, “more than one way to skin a cat” and “to kill two birds with one stone”. Usually when someone slips and quotes one of them in my presence, there is a long hesitation. That hesitation is then followed by a comment like, “Woops sorry, I know you are a humane society person.” Both of these sayings have inhumane origins however, nowadays they are used to represent the ideas that there are several ways to accomplish the same thing or you can settle two issues with a single solution.
A less popular saying is “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” Some believe the original meaning dates back to medieval times when Falconry was very popular. It meant a Falcon in hand was more valuable than the prey in the bush. Go figure. Anyway, through the past four or five hundred years it has grown to mean, we should settle for the gift in hand rather than take a chance on the unknown.
So, we are stuck with a few sayings that really don’t demonstrate our love for animals. But, like it or not some people will continue to use them, because “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” However, maybe “when pigs fly” these same people may just stop using them.