IATE Term of the Week: Curfew

Audio IATE Term of the Week_ Curfew

The word “curfew” has recently become very popular due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In the media it is used to define the time period at night in which people have to stay at home.

According to the official definition from the Cambridge Dictionary the term has two different meanings: “a rule that everyone must stay at home between particular times, usually at night, especially during a war or a period of political trouble” and “a time by which a child must be home in the evening”. But where does this famous term come from? In terms of etymology, the word comes from the Old French phrase “couvre-feu”, which means “cover fire”. “Feu” comes from Latin “focus”, hearth. Later it was adopted into Middle English as “corfeu” to finally become the actual “curfew” that sounds familiar to us.

The term was used during the Middle Ages as most of the houses in Europe were made of wood and fires could quickly spread from house to house. Therefore, William the Conqueror made a law that obliged people to cover their hearth fires by eight o’clock at night. When the time came a signal called “cover-feu” rung in order to prevent the population from the fire’s danger. Later the meaning has changed, and it had nothing to do with the fire, the term just referred to an evening bell that because of other dangers and the signal required people to be off the streets at a certain time. In 1918, the first “curfew order” consisted in the obligation of some establishments to extinguish their lights/fires by half past ten at night with the aim of saving fuel.

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Nowadays, the term is used in some countries like Spain, Italy, France or Luxembourg, , referring to the new Coronavirus restriction mostly during the second wave in November and December. The curfew hours can vary within the same country, it depends on what the regional governments decide depending on the incidence of the virus. There are some exceptions that allow us to breach the curfew such as health/family urgencies or professional duties.

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Cambridge English Dictionary. 2020. curfew. [ONLINE] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/curfew. [Accessed 3 December 2020].

Etymonline. 2020. curfew. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/curfew. [Accessed 3 December 2020].

The local. 2020. coprifuoco. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.thelocal.it/20201022/italian-word-of-the-day-coprifuoco. [Accessed 3 December 2020].

Blogs 20 Minutos. 2020. origen. [ONLINE] Available at: https://blogs.20minutos.es/yaestaellistoquetodolosabe/tag/origen-de-la-expresion-toque-de-queda/. [Accessed 3 December 2020].

Merriam Webster. 2020. curfew. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/curfew. [Accessed 3 December 2020].

The Guardian. 2020. curfew. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/25/last-orders-the-origins-of-the-word-curfew. [Accessed 3 December 2020].

My name is Anna Canton and I come from Barcelona, Spain. I studied a Bachelor in Translation and Interpretation in Barcelona and a Master in Audiovisual Translation in Cadiz. I speak Catalan, Spanish, English, German, Japanese and French. I moved to Luxembourg almost two years ago and I am currently studying the Master in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. I have always been fascinated by languages, travelling and learning from other cultures. My highest aspiration is to work as a translator in the European Parliament.