A quarantine is a restriction on the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to prevent its spread. The word quarantine dates back to the 1660s when it meant, “period a ship suspected of carrying disease is kept in isolation”, and is derived from Latin quadraginta, meaning “forty.”

During this current pandemic of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), many people are being quarantined on cruise ships and upon their return home from a foreign country.

As we can see from the origins of the word, quarantining is not a new practice. Quadraginta (“forty”) refers to the fourteenth century Venetian policy of keeping ships from plague-stricken countries waiting off its port for 40 days to ensure no latent cases were aboard.

In some countries, quarantine sites were established to protect inhabitants from infectious diseases that appeared aboard immigrant ships.

One such place is the North Head Quarantine Station in Manly, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Following a European cholera outbreak in 1830, Governor Darling established the quarantine station at Spring Cove on North Head in 1832. For the next 152 years the station would protect Sydneysiders from contagious diseases, including Spanish influenza, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, and even bubonic plague.

Of those who went in, some people resisted the disease, some who were sick or fell ill recovered and were released, while others never made it out.

This colorful and often tragic history has lent itself to many urban legends. Now rebranded as the Q Station, a hotel and conference center, the station conducts history tours and ghost tours. I used to live near the station and the site holds a lot of sentimental value and mystery for many.

The Quarantine Station serves as a reminder of our struggle against the epidemic diseases of the past, and that the past is never far away.


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Karen Stollznow

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist and researcher. She is the author of the best-selling book God Bless America. Her other titles include Hits & Mrs., Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic, Would You Believe It? and Haunting America. Her forthcoming book is On the Offensive: Prejudice in Language Past and Present.

2 Comments on "Quarantine"

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  1. Gene Brown says:

    Thanks for this informative article, Dr. Stollznow.

    I’m curious as to the suffix “-tine”, as in quarantine and brigantine – a ship designated for holding jailed sailors, I’m presuming. But I might be totally wrong about the ship.


  2. Thanks for reading this, Gene!

    This is a great question! The suffix could be French, Italian or Latin, so I’ll need to look this up for you.

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