Quarantine – a word comes full circle

I’ve always loved history and etymology, so not surprising I was attracted to both elements with the word quarantine.

The English word quarantine comes from the Italian term ‘quarantena’.

The term derives from the number ‘quaranta’ – meaning forty.

During the period of the Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, that spread around Europe from the mid-1300s through the 1600s, ports were a major hub of the disease’s spread.

Not surprisingly, Venice was one of the most bustling ports of the era, with merchants travelling to Venice from far and wide with their exotic wares.

In an attempt to stop the spread of the Plague, the Venetian Empire instituted a rule that forced ships coming to Venice’s port to rest in the harbor for 40 days, before being allowed to land and offload their wares …. if all the crew proved to be healthy.

Thus, the quarantine.

Sadly, seven hundred years later, this Venetian term is on everyone’s lips. First and foremost, here in Italy and in its Veneto region.

History does indeed come full circle…


  1. wordfoolery on February 28, 2020 at 10:43 am

    Yes, I was intrigued to find quarantine to be linked to Venice in that way, and other cities had ones of different durations (I was researching for another nonfiction book last year) – illness isn’t new. Hope you and your family are well, Kimberly.

    • kimberlysullivan on February 29, 2020 at 9:11 am

      Thanks, Grace. I know your fascination with word origins. This one had a particular twist with its Italian connection. We’re all well here, and hoping thing will return to normal in northern Italy soon…

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