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What Is a Lazaretto? Behind Jack White's New Album Title

Investigating the etymology of the obscure title behind Jack White's forthcoming LP

Jack White
Jo McCaughey
April 1, 2014 12:45 PM ET

Earlier today, Jack White released a new track, the instrumental "High Ball Stepper," and announced that on June 9th he'll be releasing his second solo studio album, Lazaretto, a follow-up to 2012's Blunderbuss.

So: What is a lazaretto? The term first appears in English – or at least, in the Oxford English Dictionary – with William Thomas' mid-16th Century The Historie of Italie. There, the Welsh scholar writes, writes of a house "two miles from Venice, called the Lazaretto" where people sick with the plague are cared for.

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According to Jane L. Stevens Crawshaw's Plague Hospitals: Public Health for the City in Early Modern Venice, the term is a corruption of the name of that original building, a converted monastery located on an island outside Venice that reopened as Santa Maria di Nazareth in 1423. Another account, however, posits the term as descending from the Gospels – either the story in "Luke" where Lazarus, a poor man "full of sores" dies outside a rich man's gate but finds their positions reversed in the afterlife, or the story in "John" where Jesus returns to the town of Bethany to heal a presumably different Lazarus, a man who has been dead for the past four days. As you might have guessed, this Lazarus comes back to life.

Today, however, the word, which since the mid 18th Century has grown increasingly obscure, refers to a Santa Maria–like house for the occupancy of the diseased poor or a ship or building set apart for quarantine.

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