While we live within this new reality,
[Is it reality when it is such a temporary thing, I ask myself? Temporary? I answer. Sure, for those of us who survive it.]
I thought it would be worthwhile to take a peek over the wall to see where we came from. Sure enough, history nearly always shines some light into the dark corners of our present circumstance, and COVID 19 is no exception.
1660s, “period a ship suspected of carrying disease is kept in isolation,” from Italian quaranta giorni, literally “space of forty days,” from quaranta “forty,” from Latin quadraginta“forty,” which is related to quattuor “four” (from PIE root *kwetwer– “four”). So called from the Venetian policy (first enforced in 1377) of keeping ships from plague-stricken countries waiting off its port for 40 days to assure that no latent cases were aboard.
[Governor Brian Kemp of georgia and the citizens under his stewardship might have profited by checking with those ancient Venetians. He maybe wouldn’t have been so surprised to find that one can be asymptomatic and still be contagious]
Also see lazaretto. The extended sense of “any period of forced isolation” is from 1670s.
So it seems the word and the practice have been going on for quite some centuries now. It had a rational basis, of course. Keep the accursed from me, and I will be safe. As always, religious zealots bring God into the discussion. The Almighty, naturally and constantly needs to punish us for our wicked ways, and there is always a long list of victims and sins to choose from as long as they aren’t our own.
It only made good sense that an evildoer from another village, city, ship, nation was responsible for our misfortune. We all know, for instance, that HIV was a punishment for homosexuality? and I read yesterday of a group that wants to group up and retaliate against China. I heard another pundit, however, opine that actually CoVid might have started in Europe rather than China, which might have given that little campaign second thoughts in earlier days, but all should be fine now that we have labeled NATO a bunch of stingy moochers who don’t deserve our protection. But that is just the disease part. There is also the biblical part.
I hadn’t noticed before that “Quarantine” has the seed of the word “forty” in it. Thus we are duplicating, via Christ’s forty days in the desert, Christianity’s Lenten season–the period between Mardi Gras and Easter. Maybe that’s where our president gets the notion that it will all be over by Easter. I don’t know for sure. Can’t read anyone’s mind, especially that one.
But somehow the whole term got tangled up with marriage and divorce:
Earlier in English the word meant “period of 40 days in which a widow has the right to remain in her dead husband’s house” (1520s), and, as quarentyne (15c.), “desert in which Christ fasted for 40 days,” from Latin quadraginta “forty.”
And, finally, as English so often does, we found a way to turn a noun into a verb so it can enjoy more of the action.
1804, from quarantine (n.). Related: Quarantined; quarantining.
So, there you have it. Now that you know, you can, as I do, feel much more sanguine about this imposed isolation, this condition our esteemed Attorney General today termed “draconian,” a cure worse than the disease. (Is this an echo of something I heard from Pennsylvania Ave recently? Surely not. Billy Barr is a bright guy who is capable of forming his own ideas, as long as they are cleared by the Pontiff.)
I am particularly glad that I am congenitally incapable of widowhood. Forty days is not a long time when it comes to settling real estate transactions. Got to leave now, though. I feel a sneeze coming on.