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See more synonyms for quail on Thesaurus.com
noun, plural quails, (especially collectively) quail.
  1. a small, migratory, gallinaceous game bird, Coturnix coturnix, of the Old World.
  2. any of several other birds of the genus Coturnix and allied genera.
  3. any of various New World gallinaceous game birds of the genus Colinus and allied genera, especially the bobwhite.
  4. Slang. a woman or girl.
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Origin of quail1

1300–50; Middle English quaille < Old French < Germanic; compare Dutch kwakkel quail, Middle Dutch, Middle Low German quackele; akin to quack1
Related formsquail·like, adjective
Can be confusedquail quell quill


verb (used without object)
  1. to lose heart or courage in difficulty or danger; shrink with fear.
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Origin of quail2

1400–50; late Middle English < Middle Dutch quelen, queilen
Related formsun·quail·ing, adjective


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Synonym study

See wince1.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

blanch, faint, droop, flinch, tremble, wince, shudder, start, recoil, quake, shake, falter, blench, cringe

Examples from the Web for quail

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • She signed to the Seven, and they came huddling to her like quail; she put them behind her.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • Quail ran in droves and rose among the mesas like young thunder.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • Out in the back-pasture, a quail could flutter up under his nose unharmed.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • The plant comes from an egg, which is about the size of a quail's egg.

  • Here is a task before which we quail in this generation of vast vistas.

    College Teaching

    Paul Klapper

British Dictionary definitions for quail


noun plural quails or quail
  1. any small Old World gallinaceous game bird of the genus Coturnix and related genera, having a rounded body and small tail: family Phasianidae (pheasants)
  2. any of various similar and related American birds, such as the bobwhite
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Word Origin

C14: from Old French quaille, from Medieval Latin quaccula, probably of imitative origin


  1. (intr) to shrink back with fear; cower
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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

Word Origin and History for quail


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.

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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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper