No, I’m not being morbid. 😏 But this was one of the trending words on Etymonline, and I found its etymology fascinating!
So quarantine entered English around 1660 with its somewhat-familiar meaning: “the length of time a ship suspected of carrying disease was kept in isolation.” Okay…so what is that amount of time? Forty days–the word is, in fact, from the Latin quaranta, meaning “forty.” This was how long ships were expected to wait before entering a port during the days of the plague, to make sure no latent cases were aboard.
Within a decade, it had been extended to mean “any period of forced isolation.”
But before that, the word was in English already with some very different meanings! In the 1400s, it was used still to mean a 40-day period, but it was the period of mourning for a widow in which she still had the right to live in her husband’s house before the property went to the heir (keeping in mind that women couldn’t own property at the time). And it was also the word used to refer to Jesus’ 40-day fast! Who knew?
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