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Word Geek – quarantine

By Natalie Hall | September 23, 2020 | Word Geek

Word Geek – quarantine

Quarantine is a word we are all too familiar with at present, but where do its origins lie?

The first use of the word “quarantine” dates back to the mid-14th century in Europe at a time when the devastating plague, known as the Black Death, swept across Europe, wiping out a third of the population.

In 1377, officials in the Venetian-controlled city of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik, Croatia), passed a law establishing a trentino, or thirty-day isolation period for ships arriving from plague-affected areas in a bid to stop its spread. Inhabitants of Ragusa were prohibited from visiting those ships under trentino and anyone breaking the law would be isolated for the mandatory 30 days.

Over the next 80 years, many other European cities adopted variations of the trentino law including Pisa, Venice, Marseilles and Genoa. Within a century, these cities extended the mandatory quarantine period from 30 to 40 days and so trentino became quarantino and gives us the word quarantine we know today.

While there is no certainty around the rationale of the decision to extend the isolation period to 40 days, we do know the concept of “quarantine” is still very much used today as it was in the 14th century as an effective measure to prevent the spread of disease.