Quarter - Encyclopedia

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QUARTER (through Fr. from Lat. quartarius, fourth part), a word with many applications of its original meaning, namely, one of the four divisions of anything; thus as a measure of weight a quarter equals 28 lb, one-fourth of the hundredweight of 112 lb; as a measure of capacity for grain it equals 8 bushels; similarly in liquid measure the shorter form "quart" is a quarter of a gallon = 2 pints, so "quartern" is a quarter of a pint (a gill), or, as a measure for bread, 4 lb. "Quarter" is also used of the fourth part of the moon's monthly revolution, and of a fourth part of the legal year, marked off by the "quarter-days" (see below). For the division of the heraldic shield into four "quarters" and the use of the term "quartering," the marshalling of several coats on one shield, see Heraldry. From the four principal points of the compass and the corresponding division of the horizon, &c., the word is used generally of direction or situation, and hence of a district in a town, &c., especially when assigned to or occupied by a particular class. It has thus become the usual term applied to stations, buildings, lodgings, &c., in the regular occupation of military troops (see Barracks, Camp, and Cantonments).

There are many technical uses of the word, in which the original meaning has been lost or obscured; thus in carpentry and architecture it is applied to the main upright posts in framing, sometimes called "studs"; the filling in quarters were formerly named "prick posts"; in farriery, to one side of the "coffin" of a horse's foot; in bootmaking, to the side piece of leather reaching from the vamp to the heel. The "quarter" of a ship is the after part of her side from the mainchains to the stern (see Quarterdeck).

There has been much discussion as to the origin of the use of the word "quarter" in the sense of mercy, clemency, the sparing of the life of a beaten enemy and the acceptance of his surrender. The same use is found in Fr. quartier. Cotgrave explains this word as "faire war, wherein souldiers are taken prisoners and ransomed at a certaine rate." The real origin cannot be, as has often been repeated, following De Brieux (Origines de plusieurs facons de parler, 1672), that it was due to a supposed agreement between the Dutch and Spaniards for ransoming officers and men at one quarter of their pay. The true source is either the assignment of "quarters," i.e. lodgings, to captured prisoners whose lives were spared, or the use of the word, now obsolete, for relations with or conduct towards another, often in the sense of fair treatment; thus in Bacon's Essay on Cunning, " two, that were competitors, ... kept good quarter between themselves." Quarter days are the days that begin each quarter of the year. In England they are the 25th of March (Lady Day), the 24th of June (Midsummer Day), the 29th of September (Michaelmas Day) and the 25th of December (Christmas Day). They are the days on which it is usually contracted that rents should be paid and houses or lands entered upon or quitted. In Scotland there are two legal terms, the 15th of May (Whitsunday) and the nth of November (Martinmas); these, together with the two conventional terms, 2nd of February (Candlemas) and the 1st of August (Lammas), make up the Scottish quarter days. In the Scottish burghs, however, the removal terms are the 28th of May and the 28th of November. In the United States the quarter days are, in law, the 1st of January, April, July and October.

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