In The Mail

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Meaning of quarantine


Jay Kiefer and I are friendly so I know he won’t mind my ribbing him about his recent regurgitation of a bumper stick — er, I mean, letter to the editor on April 28.

Hopefully those parents following Mr. Kiefer’s wise advice to give their children a lesson in the meaning of the word “quarantine” will do so with an understanding of the word’s origin in Italian (medieval Venetian actually, but these finer points are probably wasted on the kiddos). 

It references the 40 days (“quarantena”) when foreign ships were mandated to spend waiting in the port of Venice before their crews could disembark. This was during the Black Death, and no one knew whether or not a given crew member might bring the disease with them, so they were forced to wait it out; there was such a thing as an asymptomatic carrier back then, too. If they had it, they’d begin to show symptoms or die during those 40 days. If they didn’t die, they must not have the disease and were allowed ashore. It’s important for present purposes to note that Venice’s policy assumed everyone on board had the disease. Without a doubt numerous disease-free crews were severely inconvenienced by quarantine. But the Venetians judged this as preferable to the alternative.

The second thing Mr. Kiefer knows but chooses to ignore, for comedic effect no doubt, is that were we living under tyranny, the editors at The Enterprise and Mr. Kiefer himself would’ve been jailed — or worse — after the publication of his missive. Assuming the editors and Kiefer aren’t currently lounging in a cell, we can safely assume the nightmarish tyrannical reign we’ve been living in has either collapsed or, perhaps, never began in the first place.

Mitch Grady