Fun Etymology Tuesday – Curfew

It’s certainly late again! Today, though, it’s kinda appropriate, because today’s word is curfew!

While today, this word means a certain time when movement is restricted somehow – usually the time a kid has to be home from the really fun thing that they definitely wanted to stay longer at (but occasionally something more serious like curfew during wars, threats to society, or serious emergencies) – this word used to refer to something quite important: the time when hearths should be banked and lights extinguished to prevent unattended fires during the night! As you can probably imagine, a fire could be catastrophic in a village or a town during the Middle Ages (which it would be today too, of course, but we tend to not use fire as much in our daily lives) and banking the fires was likely a very important part of someone’s nightly routine.

This meaning is actually reflected in the word’s etymology: from Anglo-French coeverfu from Old French cuevrefeu, meaning literally “cover fire”! When it came to English, during the early 14th century, it was curfeu and referred to a specific signal, like a ringing bell, at a fixed hour, a decent reminder to cover the fire up and not burn the entire neighbourhood down. A somewhat important thing to do, wouldn’t you say?

That’s it for today! We’ll be back with more etymological fun next week! See you then!

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