Italian word of the day: ‘Coprifuoco’

Italian word of the day: 'Coprifuoco'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
This medieval word is back on everyone's lips in the time of Covid-19.

Today's word is one you'll recognise from Italian headlines: coprifuoco, 'curfew'.

It literally means 'cover fire', from the verb coprire ('to cover') and fuoco, 'fire'.

And in fact so does our English equivalent, it's just slightly harder to see the roots. We took our word from the Old French 'couvre-feu' ('cover fire'), which mutated into 'curfew'.

All three versions refer to the same tradition: in medieval times, a bell would be rung in the evening to remind townspeople to put out the fires burning in their hearths before they went to bed, to prevent sparks catching while they slept and setting the entire neighbourhood ablaze.

The signal became known as a 'cover fire'.

In the centuries that followed, by extension, the term applied to any warning that it was time to return home and get to bed.

Until recently, most people had probably only ever received such warnings from parents.

Non vengo al pub, mia madre ha messo il coprifuoco.
I'm not coming to the pub, my mum set a curfew.

But in recent days, curfews have become official orders. At least three regions of Italy have declared coprifuochi (plural) in response to a steep rise in coronavirus infections.

In Lombardia da giovedì ci sarà il coprifuoco dalle 23 alle 5.
In Lombardy from Thursday there will be a curfew from 11pm to 5am.

Per chi dovrà uscire durante le ore di coprifuoco sarà necessaria un'autocertificazione.
Those who have to go out during curfew hours will need a self-certification form.

Just like the original version, this latest curfew isn't just for your own benefit, it's to protect your neighbours too. That's worth a few early bedtimes, isn't it?

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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