[kwahm, kwawm]


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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for qualm

Contemporary Examples of qualm

Historical Examples of qualm

  • He had put her aside without a qualm; and now he met her announcement with approval.


    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.

  • 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

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 Formsqualmish, adjectivequalmishly, adverbqualmishness, noun

Word Origin for qualm

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

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