Sunday, September 17, 2006


Far from meaning "acting like a quail" (at least, in any way I can think of) to quail means "to shrink back in fear; cower" or "draw back, as with fear or pain". Lest you think that this might actually be based on some sort of ornithological behavior, the two words come from very different origins: The bird name comes from the Middle English "quaille", which in turn comes from Old French (and possibly from Vulgar Latin), whereas the verb "quail" is from the Middle English "quailen" ("to give way"), which in turn may be from the Middle Dutch word "quelen" ("to suffer"). So don't knock the quails. They don't quail on you. Or if they do, it's rather something of a coincidence.

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