In a TLS article about Kenelm Digby‘s privateering expedition in 1627, I read that “He was granted ‘Pratique’, as the right to come ashore and trade was known, with surprising speed [at Cephalonia]”; not being familiar with the word, I looked it up, and found that it was (per Wiktionary) “Permission to use a port given to a ship after compliance with a quarantine or on conviction that she is free of contagious disease” and was “Borrowed from French pratique, from Medieval Latin practica.” The (2nd ed.) OED says it’s pronounced ʹprætik, giving the French praʹtik as an alternate. I’m not clear on the semantic development, nor on whether it’s still in use; the Wikipedia article talks as if it is (“Pratique is the license given to a ship to enter port”), but for all I know that’s straight from the 11th-edition Britannica or some equally obsolete source. So any information anyone has about it will be welcome.


  1. The US Power Squadron says it’s important.

  2. I had never heard of this word either, but the OED has a 2003 citation. Google Ngrams shows that the frequency of the word hasn’t varied by all that much over the last 200 years. It actually shows a gradual increase in frequency, but the word is so rare that any quantitative changes indicated could well be spurious.

  3. marie-lucie says

    The word is a shortening of the French phrase la libre pratique, referring to a vessel’s (and its crew’s) permission to “freely” enter a port after being found free of any contagious disease.

    For the semantic development, see the TLFi under pratique, nom féminin and especially the subsection “MAR”. Just about any habitual activity can be called une pratique (lit. a practice but with a much wider range of meanings), so in this case the incoming vessel is free to do whatever other vessels and their crews normally do when in port. Could one say “It has the freedom of the port”? (as in “the freedom of the city”).

  4. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The latest OED quote is from 2003: ‘ Changes to the quarantine bill mean all overseas aircraft arriving in Australia are automatically granted pratique unless there are fears passengers could have infectious diseases.’

    The definition there, and all the quotes except possibly the earliest (1609), are about a literal clean bill of health, though, so if there was a change of meaning it was very early.

    (The first quote says ‘leaue to come amongst them, or to vse traffique with them’, which in context I think means ‘to communicate with them’ rather than ‘to trade with them’, but could be either.)

  5. The word is a shortening of the French phrase la libre pratique, referring to a vessel’s (and its crew’s) permission to “freely” enter a port after being found free of any contagious disease.

    Thanks, m-l!

  6. david, Brett, Jen: Looks like it’s definitely still in use then; thanks!

  7. Argh, I just noticed that the URL ends in -2, which means I’ve already had a post with this title, and sure enough. When will I learn to do a search before posting? Ah well, that was back in 2005, and the post had a different emphasis, so it’s all good.

  8. What, you can’t remember a word that you last saw 15 years ago and presumably never before that? You’re slipping, Hat!

  9. marie-lucie says

    It must have been just before I joined the Hattics, otherwise I think I would have remembered this unusual usage.

  10. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I’m sure I’ve come across a pratique boat in the Aubrey-Maturin stories, but don’t remember meeting the word otherwise.

  11. When the Academy of Language Hat Studies completes its full annotated index (projected in 2030), you’ll be able to easily look up previous mentions of any given topic.

    Meanwhile, there’s John Cowan.

  12. January First-of-May says

    When the Academy of Language Hat Studies completes its full annotated index

    I’m currently trying to (slowly, on-and-off) do an archive binge on Language Hat, via the Commented-On Posts page.
    If I ever manage to finish that project, I promise to try the re-read again, while assembling at least a rudimentary annotated index. I suspect I won’t get very far, however.

  13. It seems like superfluous effort, since a google search on “search term” works quite well.

  14. Stu Clayton says

    But the results of that are not annotated, and have not even been copy-edited or fact-checked. Raw data. Tsk.

  15. True, true.

  16. Hudson Valley says

    Hat! — “search term” ?
    Yay! Just what I needed. After coyly lurking for about a year, I decided to jump in, but by the time I was ready the thread had disappeared. I’d forgotten the title, and the subject had shifted completely in the course of the discussion. (How did I find myself on a conversation that began in 2004? The wonders of wandering in Hatterland.) Got it.

  17. Yay!

  18. Stu Clayton says

    Nor did I know about the “site:” qualifier. A few years ago Hat would ruffle up his grey feathers of righteous ignorance whenever Internet stuff was mentioned. Now he has zoomed ahead into a fair competence, while I can only mutter and grumble at the floods of novelty. It is ever thus with these young-uns.

  19. I’ve been preaching the word of Google on this blog since 2012.

  20. Stu Clayton says

    What are your views on filioque ?

  21. David Marjanović says
  22. Stu Clayton says

    Nothing about filioque there.

  23. What about causaque?

  24. “Jen in Edinburgh says: The latest OED quote is from 2003”

    OED might have to update that. The Commonwealth (of Australia) Biosecurity Act 2015 talks about “positive pratique” and “negative pratique”. ref: sections 48 and 49 of the Act.

  25. Stu Clayton says

    @ Rodger C: qué causa ?

  26. Stu: See my comment on “In Fir Tar Is.”

  27. Stu Clayton says

    Ha, hadn’t seen that. “Cossacks” had occurred to me but I was unable to make wit of it.

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