early 14c., curfeu, "evening signal, ringing of a bell at a fixed hour" as a signal to extinguish fires and lights, from Anglo-French coeverfu (late 13c.), from Old French cuevrefeu, literally "cover fire" (Modern French couvre-feu), from cuevre, imperative of covrir "to cover" (see cover (v.)) + feu "fire" (see focus (n.)). Related: Curfew-bell (early 14c.).
The medieval practice of ringing a bell (usually at 8 or 9 p.m.) as an order to bank the hearths and prepare for sleep was to prevent conflagrations from untended fires. The modern extended sense of "periodic restriction of movement" had evolved by 1800s.
updated on June 06, 2018