Time’s up for “curfew”

As I write, I’ve got 40 minutes to get inside before I could potentially be arrested. San Jose, California has a covid-related curfew that makes it unlawful to be out between the hours of 10pm and 5am. I’m not sure how strictly the curfew is being obeyed, not to mention enforced. It was the latest increasingly strict measure required by people not obeying the previous measure.

When I was growing up in Somerville, Massachusetts, it was well-understood by all us kids that the time to come in the house for the evening was when the streetlights turned on. The lights were controlled by a photocell, so we all got longer after-dinner play times during the summer. It was a simple system based on an indirect measure of the tilt of the Earth’s axis and it worked. Pleas for longer time were rarely granted.

Being a writer, I ponder the origins of interesting words that I encounter. Recently, I came across a picture of a brass fireplace implement called a “curfew” and wondered how it related to the modern meaning.

The curfew was a metal or terra cotta dome that was placed over the remains of the coals in the hearth or stove to prevent the fire from spreading while also preventing the coals from being extinguished. (“Curfew” stems from the French “couvre-feu”, to cover the fire.) It was a fine line between the disaster of a house fire and the hassle of re-kindling a cold fire in the morning. A bell would toll announcing the curfew—-the time to cover up the hearth fire for the night. The practice is ancient and predates the Norman Invasion in England.

Examples of Curfews

Of course, now the curfew is meant to get everyone out of the bars and in their home to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Let’s hope that don’t need either type of curfew for very much longer in the future.

1 thought on “Time’s up for “curfew”

  1. Interesting piece. Thanks. A similar experience with quarantine (essentially “40 nights”) was quite illuminating for me.

    I’ve concluded that many states & countries are in a crazy competition – essentially a race to the bottom. They are trying to undermine real science with new religions. It’s what politicians & courtiers have always done. Step one has always been “Keep ’em frightened” and WuFlu represented a perfect opportunity.

    Carl Sagan predicted it many years ago with his last book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”. He even outlined a ‘baloney detection kit’ – something that every schoolchild should be taught. Sadly, scientific thinking is being driven from curricula by huge dollops of woo.

    Like

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