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EN UN MOT | IN A WORD

CURFEW

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C'est vrai*, curfew is an English word, but did you know it has French origins?

Curfew originates from Middle French and is a mix of two words: the verb couvrir (to cover) and the noun feu (fire).

For the real intellos* out there, the word dates from the early 14th century and was originally, in Old French, cuevrefeu. Cuevre is the imperative form of the verb covrir, which later became couvrir as we know it today.

So why were the French being told to couvre-feu*? Well, it seems William the Conqueror, or Guillaume le Conquérant, the first Norman King of England, was to blame. Also known as Guillaume le Bâtard*, perhaps he was just a huge killjoy who wanted everyone safely tucked into bed by a certain heure*? In fact, his bastard moniker referred the fact that he was the son of Robert Le Magnifique* (imagine having such a great name?) and his maîtresse*, Arlette de Falaise, not that he was just a big old rabat-joie*.

In fact, demanding that townspeople return home to deaden or cover up their fires (not necessarily extinguish them) at the ringing of an 8pm bell served two purposes for William. Prohibiting the use of live fires after the curfew bell was used as a repressive measure to prevent rebellious gatherings of the conquered English. But clever William was able to pass this off as concern for his fellow citizens. Since most houses at the time were made of timber and particularly susceptible to fire, being forced to cover them at the ringing of the bell greatly reduced the risk of incendies*. Malin, non?*

 

*It's true | *brain-boxes | *cover-fire | *William the Bastard | *hour | *Robert the Magnificent | *mistress | *party pooper | *fires | *Clever, eh?