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If you’re reading this article around the time it comes out, and maybe for months after as well, then chances are, you’re currently stuck in your home. Quarantined. You’ve also probably heard this word more in the last few months than you have in your entire life put together. But what does “QuarantRead more
If you’re reading this article around the time it comes out, and maybe for months after as well, then chances are, you’re currently stuck in your home.
You’ve also probably heard this word more in the last few months than you have in your entire life put together.
But what does “Quarantine” actually mean, and where does the word really come from?
Let’s take a break from epidemiology to instead study the etymology of this extremely popular global buzzword, and get to the root cause of the word “Quarantine.”
If we’re going by the Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions of the word, the two you’re probably more familiar with are “a restraint upon the activities or communication of persons or the transport of goods designed to prevent the spread of disease or pests” and “a state of enforced isolation.”
But these are actually only the third and fourth definitions of the word.
The first and second are “a period of 40 days” and “a term during which a ship arriving in port and suspected of carrying contagious disease is held in isolation from the shore.”
Probably not what you expected, right?
Let’s turn back time and explore these more esoteric definitions.
Like a lot of English words, quarantine was
largely plagiarized from Western Europe – it’s derived from the Latin word quadraginta and the Italian word quaranta, both of which mean “forty.”
The actual act that the word “Quarantine” refers to has been in use since long before the word ever came into prominence.
Quarantine In Bible
Even the Bible has references to the isolation
of lepers in order to prevent the spread of leprosy.
Prior to the 14th Century, when the term was
coined, many cultures even had designating
areas for sequestering the sick.
In Venice, these were called lazarettos –named after Lazarus, the man Jesus was said to have brought back from the dead, and also the Catholic Patron Saint of Lepers – and they were built outside the city to keep the sick separate from the general population.
Quarantine During The Black Death
However, it was during history’s deadliest
pandemic, the Black Death – which killed around 200 million victims – that quarantine
as a term came into use.
The Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa
– which is now Dubrovnik in modern Croatia
– implemented a plague-time policy known
Under Trentino, trade ships arriving from
plague-infested areas were to be isolated
for a period of thirty days to see if the crew presented plague symptoms before letting
them mix with the general population.
Criminals who broke the law also faced thirty
days isolation under Trentino.
This policy turned out to be quite successful, and over the next eighty years was also adopted by Pisa, Marseilles, and a number of other cities.
the period of isolation was moved from thirty to forty days, meaning the name changed from Trentino to Quarantino, which was then anglicised into “Quarantine.”
There’s a lot of speculation as to why they
changed the number of days from thirty to
forty – some suggest it could be an extra
safety precaution, others posit it might be
because of the religious significance of the
number forty, like Christ’s Biblical forty days fasting in the desert.
But like many aspects of history, it’s equally
likely the change was purely arbitrary.
The enforcement of the Quarantino was often
fickle and inconsistent, and often made exceptions for the rich and influential, who could simply buy themselves out of isolation while the poor bore the brunt of the law.
That may have been several hundred years ago, but really, some things never change.
Wanna read more to get you through your Quarantino?
Why not check out “3 Things Coronavirus Does Not Like” and “When The Coronavirus Pandemic Will End?
In the meantime, stay safe, stay quarantined,
and wash your hands!