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Curfew:

Apparently (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term comes from the French "couvre, imper. of couvrir to cover + feu fire." It was originally "A regulation in force in mediæval Europe by which at a fixed hour in the evening, indicated by the ringing of a bell, fires were to be covered over or extinguished." "The primary purpose of the curfew appears to have been the prevention of conflagrations arising from domestic fires left unextinguished at night. The earliest English quotations make no reference to the original sense of the word; the curfew being already in 13th c. merely a name for the ringing of the evening bell, and the time so marked." I did not know that!

David Walser:
I didn't know that either. What's scary, to me, is that I found it profoundly interesting.
6.9.2009 7:29pm
Vox:
I'm a big fan of covering fire.
6.9.2009 9:01pm
rosetta's stones:
Volokh, don't look now, but the ad banner on your main page appears to be for a snuff film. ;-)
6.9.2009 9:57pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
It may not be something you "knew" but I would hope it's the sort of thing you could guess. I mean, I'd hope that if there were a multiple-choice question on the subject, most well-educated people would pick the right answer.

For those who are unduly fascinated, I hereby give you Wikipedia goodness:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curfew_bell
6.9.2009 10:56pm
Le Messurier (mail):

The ad banner on your main page appears to be for a snuff film. ;-)

What as banner????? There's nary an ad in sight on my screen banner or otherwise!
6.9.2009 11:10pm
Ben P:

What as banner????? There's nary an ad in sight on my screen banner or otherwise!


Completely off topic I suppose, but there are google ads along the right hand side of the screen near the top. They always seem to bear some humrously tangential relationship to the topic being discussed in the post.

On this post (about curfews) I see

"Hurricane preparedness"
"Evaluate Insurance Claims"
"A huge selection of conspiracy items at yahoo.com"
"Free Home Security Review Now"
6.10.2009 8:59am
Prof. S. (mail):
I love it when we keep these idioms after hundreds of years. For example, I just learned last night why the phrases "a pig in a poke" and "let the cat out of the bag" are related. I also learned what the heck "a pig in a poke" even meant.
6.10.2009 9:38am
DonP (mail):
Thanks for the insight. I love collecting the background on odd words and phrases. You never know when you'll be trapped in an elevator and need something non-threatening to open the conversation.

I guess it's "Odd Phrase Day".

Here's an easy one.

How about "Cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey". And, in the interest of dignity, it has nothing to do with Simian "wedding tackle".
6.10.2009 9:48am
rosetta's stones:
Don, there appears to be some dispute of the origin of that one.

How about: "More than one way to skin a cat".
6.10.2009 10:22am
Sarah K.:
Very much enjoyed this tidbit of knowledge re curfew.
DonP--I might recommend against starting a conversation in an elevator with "cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey."
6.10.2009 11:41am
Gramarye:
I try to use things like this to explain to my friends why the OED can be such an engrossing timesink. My friends look at me as if I'm strange or something.
6.10.2009 12:55pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
This is probably the wrong forum to ask this question on, but where does the French root "feu" come from in this case? Is it Frankish or Latin? Is it connected with Frankish words for gold (maybe relating to color)?
6.10.2009 2:03pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Professor Volokh has now answered the burning trivia question, what do the legal doctrines of curfew and coverture have in common?
6.10.2009 2:17pm
DonP (mail):
"I might recommend against starting a conversation in an elevator with "cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey."

Ah, but think of how the others will quietly shuffle away from me giving me more room and space to breathe.
6.10.2009 3:07pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Oddly enough, we learned about the origin of the word curfew in elementary school. The requirement to cover fires isn't surprising; this is why Colonial towns often had a night watch on which every man was obligated to serve. Fire was the big problem of the time.
6.10.2009 5:57pm
ys:

einhverfr (mail) (www):
This is probably the wrong forum to ask this question on, but where does the French root "feu" come from in this case? Is it Frankish or Latin? Is it connected with Frankish words for gold (maybe relating to color)?

I was guessing from Latin, and apparently it's correct: from "focus"
Compare fuoco, fuego, fogo, etc.
6.10.2009 6:21pm
ys:

I was guessing from Latin, and apparently it's correct: from "focus"
Compare fuoco, fuego, fogo, etc.

In a similar phonetic line:

peu, poco, pouco
6.10.2009 6:24pm
Marian Kechlibar:
German says "Feuer", so I would say that Frankish could take the word from the common Germanic base.

Or maybe Romance and Germanic languages all share the same root word for "fire".

Slavic languages do not. It is "oheň", "ogien" - a very different word.
6.11.2009 5:04am

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