Labor Day: let sleeping writers lie

I always look forward to Labor Day, which signifies in a way an end to the heat of the summer. It also serves to stimulate my thoughts about the inanities of our language: We should work on Labor Day, but we don't. Take another example , the word dog, whose meanings run the gamut from insult to respect.

Nobody loves the dog days of August, yet when someone has dogged determination, then we're beside ourselves with joy for his or her persistence. Nothing is lovelier in the springtime than a dogwood in bloom, but dogbane is conspicuous as an herb for its bitter root. The dogcatcher, in popular lore, is a demon for leading dogs to the pound, but we wouldn't think of having our canines leashed without a dog collar.

The avid reader saves time and energy in using a dogear to mark the day's stopping point, but the avid fisherman would say yuck to catching a dogfish. We laugh when we hear a doggerel; there is more bite than bowwow in doggery, which suggests mean and surly conduct or even a pack of dogs.

A good worker could have no higher self-evaluation than to be dog-tired and no worse insult than to have participated in a dogfight. A dogtooth may be brightened by a dog biscuit, but it still isn't pretty. But a dogtooth may be a series of small pyramidal ornaments, the object of admiration in olden times.

We encourage our little kids to start swimming with a dog paddle but urge them to be very careful if, on a snowy day, they decide to become part of a dog sled. No soldier would be caught without his dog tag, but no scholar would want to be tagged dogmatic.

Everybody loves a hot dog, but nobody - and I mean nobody - wants his used-car purchase to be a dog - hot or cold. Leading a dog's life isn't good, but putting on the dog is worse.

Well, I'm not going to hound you any more with this tale. And do have a good Labor Day. I just hope it doesn't rain cats - excuse me - and dogs.

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