Quarantine is a new word that has entered all our vocabularies in the last two years. It is quite a dreaded word, not one anyone is looking forward to, not one that can get anyone excited. But today, we will make quarantine fascinating for you! How did the word quarantine come to be? What is its history? From where did it originate? Let’s find out, let’s talk origin!
The word originated in Europe in the 14th century when the plague, or what is known as the Black Death, swept across the continent wiping out around 30% of the continent’s population. Like travellers from other states and countries are asked to undergo a mandatory quarantine of fourteen days to stop the spread of Covid-19, ships arriving in Venice, Italy were asked to stay in isolation on a nearby island to halt the spread of the plague.
The isolation period was forty days, or “quaranta giorni”. People on board were allowed to come ashore only after the “quaranta (forty) giorni (days)” period. This word slowly changed into “quarantine” in the 1660s. A document from 1377 shows that this period of isolation was originally only thirty days, or “trentine”. The isolation period was extended to forty days to allow more time for the infection to develop and for the symptoms to start showing. If the period of isolation was not extended to “quaranta giorni”, we would have called quarantine something else today! The word probably would never have come into existence. A different word that stems from “trentine”, or maybe some other entirely different word, would have entered our dictionary instead of quarantine, and caused us indescribable dread!
The interesting part of this is that we are also using the word quarantine wrong. It has become completely detached from its literal meaning. It has got nothing to do with forty days. It can be fourteen days long or fifty days long, it would still be called quarantine. Today, quarantine simply means restricting the movement of people, animals or vehicles for any amount of time so as to prevent the spread of a disease.
This is quite similar to how September which used to be the seventh month of the calendar literally means seventh(sept) month and continues to mean seventh month, even though it is the ninth month of our calendar today! In both cases, the literal meaning of the word and the context in which it is used today do not sync at all.
Now, that’s an interesting origin story you need to share with your children!