Yet I admit to feeling a qualm when I hear this phrase, "moral defense."
Loewen proved to have one qualm that showed he was not a total monster.
There did come some prick of conscience, some qualm, of an injury done, upon the young Squire as he made his answer.
He had put her aside without a qualm; and now he met her announcement with approval.
He went in first, so he did not see the qualm that seized me on the doorstep.
Ma Tamby did not know what it is to have a qualm—which she could not have spelled if she had known.
A qualm of misgiving came over him that he might have trusted Teliso too much.
He felt that he could kill Bruce Browning without a qualm of conscience.
I had a mind to be upon the stage, but then I had a qualm of conscience.
And the salve to the qualm was always the same remembrance that the deed had not been done yet.
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.