• synonyms


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


Synonym study

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

Related Words


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?

  • Quailing inside his force shell, Scorio saw his men go, one by one.


    Clifford Donald Simak

British Dictionary definitions for quailing


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 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.

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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