Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a law that does not allow people to go outside between a particular time in the evening and a particular time in the morning
the period of time during which people must not go outside according to a curfew law

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun curfew came into English from French words meaning ‘cover’ and ‘fire’. It has been in use since the late 13th century.


The origin of the word curfew lies in medieval health and safety restrictions. Since most buildings were made of flammable materials, households were ordered to cover or extinguish domestic fires and naked flames overnight to prevent them setting light to buildings while people were asleep. A bell was rung to indicate the time when this should be done. This meaning was later extended to refer to an order to people to stay indoors or the period when this was to be done, usually overnight. While the term curfew is still being used in reference to the coronavirus pandemic, another more recent term, lockdown, is often preferred. Lockdowns have been very much in the news recently, first with reference to other countries and now referring to the UK, where a government-ordered lockdown has been put in place that is severe, but less severe than in some other places. As currently used, lockdown refers to a situation in which most citizens are being asked or ordered to remain indoors, not for a few hours but for an extended period of weeks or even months, in order to try to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.


The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
(Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard)

Related words

protection, safekeeping, seclusion, shutdown

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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