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[O.Fr.,=cover fire], originally a signal, such as the ringing of a bell, to damp the fire, extinguish all lights in the dwelling, and retire for the night. The custom originated as a precaution against fires and was common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The curfew has most recently been used in times of turbulence, such as revolution or civil disorders. It is a restrictive measure forcing all persons into their homes to reduce activity against the government or the occupying force. In some communities it has been applied to curb juvenile delinquency.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an emergency measure prohibiting residents of a community to be on the streets during specified times without special permission.

In the USSR a curfew can be established only under martial law. Its purpose is to maintain order and to prevent diversionary, espionage, or other enemy activity against troops, military and civilian bodies of authority, and military and industrial objectives. Special military subunits are assigned to maintain order during a curfew. In capitalist countries a curfew is established by military and civilian authorities not only in wartime but also in peacetime in cases of increased political and economic aggravations in the country and is often accompanied by arbitrary and lawless police action.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. an official regulation setting restrictions on movement, esp after a specific time at night
2. in medieval Europe
a. the ringing of a bell to prompt people to extinguish fires and lights
b. the time at which the curfew bell was rung
c. the bell itself
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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