One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A period of time during which a divorced or widowed woman may not remarry, originally observed in order to ascertain if a child was conceived prior to divorce or widowhood (and as a mourning period in the latter instance).
Late 18th century; earliest use found in Charles Hamilton (?1753–1792), orientalist. From Persian ʿidda, ʿiddat and its etymon Arabic ʿiddat-, ʿidda prescribed waiting period during which a divorced or widowed woman may not remarry, specific use of ʿidda number from ʿadda to number, count, reckon.
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