Some words sound like they ought to mean one thing, and then turn out to mean something different entirely. Like this one.
What is it? It’s a lovely word, and sounds vaguely musical – perhaps it’s a dance or a song. Or ice cream? I think it should be an ice cream. Something pleasant, anyway.
It’s a quarantine.
Often taking the form of a building on an off-shore island or a ship moored by the coast, a lazaretto was a means of containing people with contagious diseases (for instance, sailors coming in to port) until they were sure not to pass on anything nasty to the general populace. Lazarettos (also known as lazarets) could also be used as leper colonies. The word itself is a blend of lazar (leper) and nazareto (from Santa Maria di Nazaret, a Venice church that ran a hospital). So they certainly did serve a useful purpose, but all sweetness and light they definitely weren’t.
Which is a shame, because I really was hoping it would be an ice cream.