• quarantine •
Pronunciation: kwahr-ên-teen • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: A period of enforced isolation for a person, animal, or object suspected of carrying a communicable disease.
Notes: The verb is the same as the noun: "My dog had to be quarantined when I moved from France to the UK." For an adjective, we use the noun attributively: "They built a quarantine facility just outside the port area." Someone or something that has been quarantined is "in quarantine". A disease that makes you liable to quarantine is said to be quarantinable.
In Play: Today's word applies to real diseases and practices we wish we could call diseases: "Don't you wish all habitual liars could be quarantined?" It is easy to deploy today's Good Word metaphorically, too: "Rupert is never invited to these meetings; I think they're trying to quarantine his notions about corporate responsibility."
Word History: The word comes from Venice of the Middle Ages, where ships arriving from areas plagued by the plague were obliged to spend forty days (in Italian, quaranta giorni) at anchor offshore before being permitted to land goods or people. Italian quaranta comes from the Latin quadraginta "forty", related to quadrans "a quarter", and quadra "a square". Here we can see the origins of our words quadrant, quarter, quart, quadrangle, and the square dance called a quadrille. Square itself comes from the Latin ex quadra "from a square" which went on to become exquadrare "to square". A squadron or squad originally referred to a body of soldiers formed into a square, and a quarry is a place where stones are square-cut—all from the same Latin source. (Let's not quarantine Ruth Baldwin of Mönchengladbach, Germany, from the gratitude she so richly deserves for suggesting today's historically fascinating Good Word.)