The Many Meanings of Quarter
The word quarter has numerous senses as a noun, verb, and adjective, is the basis of several words beginning with quarter, and shares an origin with quart.
Quart and quarter come from Latin by way of French; in Latin, quartus means “the fourth”; it is cognate with four. Quart came to mean “one-fourth of a gallon,” while quarter refers to one of four (usually) equal parts of a whole. Quarter often pertains, with no further description, to one-fourth of a year, often in business and especially financial contexts but also in terms of one of four segments of a school year, or to one of four periods of equal length that together constitute the duration of an athletic competition or other game.
The word also refers to a compass point or direction other than north, south, east, or west or to one-fourth of the horizon or the area beneath it. In addition, it may apply to a district within a municipality or to the people living there, though the term is not precise; such a quarter may be much larger or, more commonly, much smaller than one-fourth of the city or town’s area. Quarters, the plural form, pertains to one’s living accommodations, to an assigned post or station, or to assembly of a ship’s crew.
Speaking of ships, either side of the stern, or rear, of a ship is called a quarter, and the deck at the stern of a ship is called the quarterdeck. Another term pertaining to maritime vocabulary is quartermaster. One or more quartermasters traditionally assisted the master, or captain, of a ship (later an officer subordinate to the captain called the sailing master) in navigation; it remains a rating, or a designation delineating job responsibilities, in modern navies. (Among pirates during the Age of Sail, however, quartermaster was the title of a crew member second only to the captain in authority; often, both positions were filled by election.)
Although these low-ranking but key naval officers also helped the master stow supplies and cargo to optimize smooth sailing, the application of the word to refer to an army officer responsible for disbursing clothing and supplies to troops seems to have developed independently, stemming from the title of a court official responsible for a monarch’s sleeping chamber.
Quarter also describes 25 cents in US currency, especially a coin bearing that value.
Terms derived from quarter are defined below:
In football, a quarterback is positioned midway between the front line and the halfback, who is halfway between the line and the fullback. (The halfback and fullback positions were derived from similar positions in rugby, from which football originated, while the quarterback position was invented for football.)
The noun quarterly, which refers to a publication produced four times a year, is derived from the adjective quarterly, which describes any occurrence of that frequency.
A quarterstaff is a long stick used as a weapon; both competing explanations for the origin of the word (either it refers to the placement of one’s hands when wielding it or to quarter used to refer to a cut of lumber) lack authority.
A quartet is a group of any four people or things, though the term usually pertains to a four-piece music ensemble.
A quarto is a format for printing books or pamphlets in which eight pages are printed on one sheet of paper to produce four leaves with print on both sides; the term may also refer to the size of a publication (about as large as a magazine).
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