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[kweyl] /kweɪl/
verb (used without object)
to lose heart or courage in difficulty or danger; shrink with fear.
Origin of quail2
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English < Middle Dutch quelen, queilen
Related forms
unquailing, adjective
recoil, flinch, blench, cower.
Synonym Study
See wince1. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for quailing
Historical Examples
  • Lady Luce caught her by the shoulders and glared into her quailing eyes.

    Nell, of Shorne Mills

    Charles Garvice
  • And instead of quailing, she looked at him with flashing eyes.

    In Kings' Byways Stanley J. Weyman
  • The quailing Leaf tried to look as if he had lived nowhere at all.

  • How would it not grieve him could he hear of them as now quailing before Hector?

    The Iliad Homer
  • quailing inside his force shell, Scorio saw his men go, one by one.

    Empire Clifford Donald Simak
  • Margaret persisted, not quailing in the least before his indignation.

    A Little Journey in the World Charles Dudley Warner
  • "But surely she needs me now," he said, quailing at the words.

    Little Nobody Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  • Clearly she had no intention of quailing before the majesty of the law.

    The Deep Lake Mystery Carolyn Wells
  • Not once, so far as the boys could see, did he show a sign of quailing.

    Blazing Arrow Edward S. Ellis
  • They were both fixed on the beast, but there was no sign of the beast's quailing.

British Dictionary definitions for quailing


noun (pl) quails, quail
any small Old World gallinaceous game bird of the genus Coturnix and related genera, having a rounded body and small tail: family Phasianidae (pheasants)
any of various similar and related American birds, such as the bobwhite
Word Origin
C14: from Old French quaille, from Medieval Latin quaccula, probably of imitative origin


(intransitive) to shrink back with fear; cower
Word Origin
C15: perhaps from Old French quailler, from Latin coāgulāre to curdle
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for quailing



migratory game bird, late 14c. (early 14c. as a surname (Quayle), from Old French quaille (Modern French caille), perhaps via Medieval Latin quaccula (source also of Provençal calha, Italian quaglia, Old Spanish coalla), or directly from a Germanic source (cf. Dutch kwakkel, Old High German quahtala "quail," German Wachtel, Old English wihtel), imitative of the bird's cry. Or the English word might be directly from Proto-Germanic. Slang meaning "young attractive woman" first recorded 1859.



c.1400, "have a morbid craving;" early 15c., "grow feeble or sick;" mid-15c., "to fade, fail, give way," of unknown origin, perhaps from Middle Dutch quelen "to suffer, be ill," from Proto-Germanic *kwel- "to die" (see quell). Or from obsolete quail "to curdle" (late 14c.), from Old French coailler, from Latin coagulare (see coagulate). Sense of "lose heart, shrink, cower" is attested from 1550s. According to OED, common 1520-1650, then rare until 19c., when apparently it was revived by Scott. Related: Quailed; quailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for quailing



  1. An attractive young woman; chick: a lovely little quail from Arkansas (1859+ Students)
  2. A cornet or trumpet: Listen to that kid blow that quail (1950s+ Jazz musicians)

Related Terms

san quentin quail

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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