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[kwahm, kwawm] /kwɑm, kwɔm/
an uneasy feeling or pang of conscience as to conduct; compunction:
He has no qualms about lying.
a sudden feeling of apprehensive uneasiness; misgiving:
a sudden qualm about the success of the venture.
a sudden sensation or onset of faintness or illness, especially of nausea.
Origin of qualm
First recorded in 1520-30; origin uncertain Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for qualm
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He had put her aside without a qualm; and now he met her announcement with approval.

    K Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • I feel no qualm in saying that his exit was more hasty than his approach.

    Adventures and Recollections Bill o'th' Hoylus End
  • Yet I had no qualm of fear, no doubt, even, touching the issue.

    Bardelys the Magnificent Rafael Sabatini
  • Then I shall be able, without a qualm, to send Godfrey to the workhouse.

    The Red Hand of Ulster George A. Birmingham
  • Ma Tamby did not know what it is to have a qualm—which she could not have spelled if she had known.

    The Paliser case Edgar Saltus
  • He felt that he could kill Bruce Browning without a qualm of conscience.

    Frank Merriwell's Cruise Burt L. Standish
  • And the salve to the qualm was always the same remembrance that the deed had not been done yet.

    Cousin Henry

    Anthony Trollope
  • But the deed was not yet done, and the qualm was kept under, and he slept.

    Cousin Henry

    Anthony Trollope
British Dictionary definitions for qualm


a sudden feeling of sickness or nausea
a pang or sudden feeling of doubt, esp concerning moral conduct; scruple
a sudden sensation of misgiving or unease
Derived Forms
qualmish, adjective
qualmishly, adverb
qualmishness, noun
Word Origin
Old English cwealm death or plague; related to Old High German qualm despair, Dutch kwalm smoke, stench
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 qualm

Old English cwealm (West Saxon) "death, murder, slaughter; disaster; plague; torment," utcualm (Anglian) "utter destruction," probably related to cwellan "to kill, murder, execute," cwelan "to die" (see quell). Sense softened to "feeling of faintness" 1520s; figurative meaning "uneasiness, doubt" is from 1550s; that of "scruple of conscience" is 1640s.

Evidence of a direct path from the Old English to the modern senses is wanting, but it is plausible, via the notion of "fit of sickness." The other suggested etymology, less satisfying, is to take the "fit of uneasiness" sense from Dutch kwalm "steam, vapor, mist" (cognate with German Qualm "smoke, vapor, stupor"), which also might be ultimately from the same Germanic root as quell.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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