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[kweyl] /kweɪl/
noun, plural quails (especially collectively) quail.
a small, migratory, gallinaceous game bird, Coturnix coturnix, of the Old World.
any of several other birds of the genus Coturnix and allied genera.
any of various New World gallinaceous game birds of the genus Colinus and allied genera, especially the bobwhite.
Slang. a woman or girl.
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 forms
quaillike, adjective
Can be confused
quail, quell, quill.


[kweyl] /kweɪl/
verb (used without object)
to lose heart or courage in difficulty or danger; shrink with fear.
1400-50; late Middle English < Middle Dutch quelen, queilen
Related forms
unquailing, adjective
recoil, flinch, blench, cower. See wince1 . Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for quail
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The cruel owl had pulled and pulled on the quail's bill and legs, till they were so long that his mother would not have known him.

    The Book of Nature Myths Florence Holbrook
  • She signed to the Seven, and they came huddling to her like quail; she put them behind her.

    The Trail Book Mary Austin
  • He saw before him the long fight for opportunity, position, honor; but he was not the sort to quail.

    Nedra George Barr McCutcheon
  • quail ran in droves and rose among the mesas like young thunder.

    The Trail Book Mary Austin
  • The quail arrives with the sun in our fields in spring, and goes away with the sun in September.

    Zoological Mythology (Volume II) Angelo de Gubernatis
British Dictionary definitions for quail


noun (pl) quails, quail
any small Old World gallinaceous game bird of the genus Coturnix and related genera, having a rounded body and small tail: family Phasianidae (pheasants)
any of various similar and related American birds, such as the bobwhite
Word Origin
C14: from Old French quaille, from Medieval Latin quaccula, probably of imitative origin


(intransitive) to shrink back with fear; cower
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
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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.


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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for quail



  1. An attractive young woman; chick: a lovely little quail from Arkansas (1859+ Students)
  2. A cornet or trumpet: Listen to that kid blow that quail (1950s+ Jazz musicians)

Related Terms

san quentin quail

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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