Another word that’s new to me: pratique is “Clearance granted to a ship to proceed into port after compliance with health regulations or quarantine.” The OED adds: “Especially used in connexion with the South of Europe”; from googling, this no longer seems to be the case. OED citations start with:

1609 W. BIDDULPH in T. Lavender Trav. (1612) 4 Zante. We staied ten daies in the rode of this city, before we could get Pratticke, that is: leaue to come amongst them, or to vse traffique with them.

and end with:

1897 Daily News 14 Jan. 3/5 The P. and O. steamer Nubia arrived in the Thames from Plymouth yesterday afternoon… Dr. Collingridge gave the ship pratique, and the yellow flag was then hauled down amid loud cheers.

As you can see from the first quote, it used to have an anglicized pronunciation (PRATT-ik), and that’s the first one given by the OED, but apparently everyone now says pra-TEEK. What puzzled me was the word itself, but it seems practice (of which this is a variant) used to have a sense ‘Dealings, negotiation, conference, intercourse’ (1584 R. SCOT Discov. Witchcr. V. viii. 85 There was not any conference or practise betwixt them in this case), and this is a specialization of that use.


  1. To me, this usage is not too surprising. In French, we commonly say, for example, that a path is “praticable” meaning that it can be crossed.

  2. To add to the first comment, the TLFi has, somewhere far down in the entry:
    B. MAR. Libre pratique. ,,Autorisation d’entrer au port donnée à un navire ayant une patente de santé nette“ (LE CLÈRE 1960). Les matelots (…) subirent longtemps toutes les interrogations du bureau de Santé (…) et enfin nous fûmes admis en libre pratique à huit heures (STENDHAL, Mém. touriste, t.2, 1838, p.404).

  3. Ralph Hitchens says

    I first came across the term in the diary of Captain Augustus Hervey, RN, a notorious rake of the 18th century, published as “Augustus Hervey: A Naval Casanova.” A very entertaining read, illuminating the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the 18th century European nobility. There are many references to pratique as Captain Hervey’s ship puts into various Mediterranean ports during the 1750s.

  4. I take it the English phrase “sharp practice”, which is still current, represents a survival of early businessy meanings of the noun.

  5. “Especially in the South of Europe” was from 1907. The OED’s entry was updated in 2007 and now says: “Now also applied to aircraft. Also figurative. Originally used esp. in connection with southern European ports.” But they now give only the pra-TEEK pronunciation and don’t even mention the anglicized pronunciation, which surprises me, since they do discuss historical shifts in stress in some other words, e.g. antique (formerly stressed on first syllable), quandary (formerly stressed on second syllable), balcony (formerly stressed on second syllable).

    Actually, there are still a few dictionaries that give the PRATT-ik pronunciation, such as I don’t know how reliable general dictionaries would be on pronunciation shifts in such a specialized word; they may not realize it needs updating. The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (2000) gives PRATT-ik as the first pronunciation and pra-TEEK as the second for British English, pra-TEEK only for American English. Youglish found only one video using the word (plus several references to Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes), and it’s pra-TEEK. Anyone out there with knowledge of shipping and marine law?

    The etymology is a little more detailed now:

    Etymology: < French pratique permission (for mariners) to set foot on the shore, permission (for a ship) to enter a port with a clean bill of health (1609; now often as libre pratique ), specific use of pratique practic n.1; in some early uses perhaps after Italian pratica (a1536). Compare earlier practic n.1.

    I’m reading that as saying that the specialized use arose in French, so the history of English practice or practic may have some parallels but isn’t the direct origin.

    This is a newsworthy word in times of pandemic, but news stories always need to define it, e.g. “The operator of the vessel was suspected of providing false information so it could obtain pratique, or health clearance, the government said.” (Financial Times, Aug. 29, 2021)

  6. Thanks, it’s good to have the update!

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