Cuarenta, Cuarentón, Cuaresma, Quarantine & Other Stuff Related to 40

Yours truly photographed in April 1982 by Malcolm Parry. I was four months shy of 40

Sometimes speaking another language gives me access to a curiousity of comparing words in English and Spanish, or even my bad French, Tagalog, Italian, Portuguese and, of course Texan English .

Take the word much in use these days, quarantine.

I know the word comes from cuarenta, Spanish for forty. If you have been raised as a Roman Catholic (I was) then you would remember that Christ went out into the wilderness for forty days. But I also had a nagging suspicion that Noah and his ark suffered forty days and nights of rain. Lent is 40 days of fasting followed by many days of feasting.

The slightly more modern term, as explained below, comes from the Italian quaranata giorni for the forty days that ships had to wait before disembarking in Venice during the 14th century plague.

Cuarenta in Spanish has a slightly humorous (to me!) use in labeling women of a certain age (over 40) as cuarentonas. It can get worse if she is called a cincuentona. In the sexist times of Latin American men they are not usually defined by the term cuarentón. I was not quite that when my face appeared on the cover of Vancouver Magazine in May 1982.

1. Forty is the only number in English which has its letters in alphabetical order.

2. Minus 40 degrees, or “40 below”, is the only temperature that is the same in both Fahrenheit and Celsius.

3. When the bubonic plague gripped Europe during the Middle Ages, ships would be isolated in harbours for 40 days before passengers could go ashore. The word quarantine originates from the Venetian dialect form of the Italian quaranta giorni, meaning “40 days”.

4. There are 40 spaces on a Monopoly board. Proving that life is a gamble, the game gives players equal chances (one in 40) of going directly to jail or winning the Free Parking prize.

5. Forget “nine months” — a typical pregnancy actually lasts 40 weeks.

6. It took chemists 40 attempts to develop the magical spray we knew as … wait for it … WD-40 (full name: Water Displacement, 40th formula).

7. In literature, 40 is the number of thieves Ali Baba clashes with in the “Arabian Nights” tale.

8. Also, 40 is the number of winks Dr William Kitchiner suggests taking for a perfect nap in his 1821 guide.

9. In religion, 40 seems to be shorthand for “a long time.” Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness being tempted by the devil; the great flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights; the Jewish people wandered the desert for 40 years.

Cuarentena — Wikipedia

Las formas de aislamiento más antiguas efectivas conocidas son las mencionadas en el Pentateuco (Biblia) hace más de 3400 años, de la que se siguieron los consejos, especialmente en el caso de la lepra. A partir de los siglos XIII y XIV toma auge.

Su uso durante cuarenta días con la aparición de la peste negra en embarcaciones determinó su nombre, aunque no se basa en una razón científica.

Las personas infectadas fueron separadas para evitar la propagación de la enfermedad entre los antiguos israelitas bajo la ley mosaica, como grabados en el antiguo testamento.​

Venecia tomó el liderazgo en medidas sanitarias para controlar la propagación de plagas, habiendo nombrado a tres guardianes de la salud pública en los primeros años de la peste negra (1348). La palabra «cuarentena» se origina de la frase italiana quaranta giorni, que significa ‘cuarenta días’.

Para fines médicos actualmente existen las cuarentenas de periodos de ochenta y cuarenta días, dependiendo de la gravedad de la enfermedad y el país donde ocurra el evento.

Quarantine — Wikipedia

Middle Ages to early modern period

The word “quarantine” originates from quarantena, the Venetian language form, meaning “forty days] This is due to the 40-day isolation of ships and people practiced as a measure of disease prevention related to the plague.[13] Between 1348 and 1359, the Black Death wiped out an estimated 30% of Europe’s population, and a significant percentage of Asia’s population. Such a disaster led governments to establish measures of containment to handle recurrent epidemics. A document from 1377 states that before entering the city-state of Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik in Croatia), newcomers had to spend 30 days (a trentine) in a restricted place (originally nearby islands) waiting to see whether the symptoms of Black Death would develop. In 1448 the Venetian Senate prolonged the waiting period to 40 days, thus giving birth to the term “quarantine”. The forty-day quarantine proved to be an effective formula for handling outbreaks of the plague. According to current estimates, the bubonic plague had a 37-day period from infection to death; therefore, the European quarantines would have been highly successful in determining the health of crews from potential trading and supply ships.

Other diseases lent themselves to the practice of quarantine before and after the devastation of the plague. Those afflicted with leprosy were historically isolated long-term from society, and attempts were made to check the spread of syphilis in northern Europe after 1492, the advent of yellow fever in Spain at the beginning of the 19th century, and the arrival of Asiatic cholera in 1831.

Venice took the lead in measures to check the spread of plague, having appointed three guardians of public health in the first years of the Black Death (1348).[15] The next record of preventive measures comes from Reggio/Modena in 1374. Venice founded the first lazaret (on a small island adjoining the city) in 1403. In 1467 Genoa followed the example of Venice, and in 1476 the old leper hospital of Marseille was converted into a plague hospital. The great lazaret of Marseille, perhaps the most complete of its kind, was founded in 1526 on the island of Pomègues. The practice at all the Mediterranean lazarets did not differ from the English procedure in the Levantine and North African trade. On the arrival of cholera in 1831 some new lazarets were set up at western ports, notably a very extensive establishment near Bordeaux, afterwards turned to another use.

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Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: