From Middle English quaylen, from Middle Dutch queilen, quēlen, from Old Dutch *quelan, from Proto-Germanic *kwelaną (“to suffer”), from Proto-Indo-European *gʷelH- (“to sting, pierce”). Doublet of queal.
- (intransitive) To waste away; to fade, to wither [from 15th c.]
- (transitive, now rare) To daunt or frighten (someone) [from 16th c.]
- c. 1606–1607, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Anthonie and Cleopatra”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act V, scene ii], page 365, column 2:
- But when he meant to quaile and shake the Orbe, / He was as ratling Thunder.
- 1978, Lawrence Durrell, Livia: or, Buried Alive: A Novel, London; Boston, Mass.: Faber and Faber, →ISBN; republished in The Avignon Quintet, London: Faber, published 1992, →ISBN, page 358:
- To tell the truth the prospect rather quailed him – wandering about in the gloomy corridors of a nunnery.
- (intransitive) To lose heart or courage; to be daunted or fearful. [from 16th c.]
- 1847 January – 1848 July, William Makepeace Thackeray, “A Quarrel about an Heiress”, in Vanity Fair. A Novel without a Hero, London: Bradbury and Evans, […], published 1848, OCLC 3174108, page 183:
- Though George had stopped in his sentence, yet, his blood being up, he was not to be cowed by all the generations of Osborne; rallying instantly, he replied to the bullying look of his father, with another so indicative of resolution and defiance, that the elder man quailed in his turn, and looked away.
- 1886 January 5, Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Carew Murder Case”, in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., OCLC 762755901, page 39:
- Mr. Utterson had already quailed at the name of Hyde; but when the stick was laid before him, he could doubt no longer: broken and battered as it was, he recognized it for one that he had himself presented many years before to Henry Jekyll.
- 1904, Seymour S. Tibbals, The Puritans or The Captain of Plymouth: A Comic Opera in Three Acts, [Franklin, Oh.]: Seymour S. Tibbals, OCLC 20218813, Act II, scene i, page 13:
- Stouter hearts than a woman's have quailed in this terrible winter. Yours is tender and trusting, and needs a stronger one to lean on; so I have come to you now, with an offer of marriage.
- 1949 June 8, George Orwell [pseudonym; Eric Arthur Blair], chapter 2, in Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, London: Secker & Warburg, OCLC 690663892; republished [Australia]: Project Gutenberg of Australia, August 2001, part 1, page 27:
- The sun had shifted round, and the myriad windows of the Ministry of Truth, with the light no longer shining on them, looked grim as the loopholes of a fortress. His heart quailed before the enormous pyramidal shape. It was too strong, it could not be stormed.
- 2016 February 20, “Obituary: Antonin Scalia: Always right”, in The Economist:
- His colleagues quailed when, in 1986, he first sat on the court as a brash 50-year-old whose experience had been mostly as a combative government lawyer: a justice who, in that sanctum of columns and deep judicial silence, was suddenly firing questions like grapeshot.
- (intransitive) Of courage, faith, etc.: to slacken, to give way. [from 16th c.]
- 1869 May, Anthony Trollope, “Hard Words”, in He Knew He Was Right, volume (please specify |volume=I or II), London: Strahan and Company, publishers, […], OCLC 1118026626, page 77:
- "Sir, if you think your name is shamed by me, we had better part," said Mrs. Trevelyan, rising from her chair, and confronting him with a look before which his own almost quailed.
From Middle English quayle, quaile, quaille, from Anglo-Norman quaille, from Old Dutch *kwakila, Frankish *kwakla (compare West Flemish kwakkel), blend of *kwak (“quack”) and Proto-Germanic *hwahtilō (“quail”) (compare dialectal Dutch wachtel, German Wachtel), from a diminutive of Proto-Indo-European *kʷoḱt- (“quail”) (compare Latin coturnīx, cocturnīx, Lithuanian vaštaka, Sanskrit चातक (cātaka, “pied cuckoo”)), metathesis of *wortokʷ- (“quail”) (compare Dutch kwartel, Greek ορτύκι (ortýki), Persian ورتیج (vartij’), Sanskrit वर्तका (vartaka)).
quail (plural quail or quails)
- Any of various small game birds of the genera Coturnix, Anurophasis or Perdicula in the Old World family Phasianidae or of the New World family Odontophoridae.
- (uncountable) The meat from this bird eaten as food.
- (obsolete) A prostitute, so called because the quail was thought to be a very amorous bird.
- c. 1602, William Shakespeare, The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid. Excellently Expressing the Beginning of their Loues, with the Conceited Wooing of Pandarus, Prince of Licia, London: Imprinted by G[eorge] Eld for R[ichard] Bonian and H[enry] Walley, and are to be sold at the spred Eagle in Paules Church-yeard, ouer against the great North doore, published 1609, OCLC 606515252, Act V, scene 1:
- Her's Agamemnon, an honeſt fellow inough and one that loues quailes, but hee has not ſo much braine as eare-wax, […]
- To curdle or coagulate, as milk does.
- 1601, Pliny the Elder; Philemon Holland, trans., The Historie of the World: Commonly Called the Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus; translated into English by Philemon Holland, London: Printed by Adam Islip, OCLC 931247183:
- [Laser is given] to such as haue supped off and drunk quailed milke, that is cluttered within their stomack.
Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for quail in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)