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[kwahm, kwawm] /kwɑm, kwɔm/
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
1520-30; origin uncertain Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for qualm
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • There did come some prick of conscience, some qualm, of an injury done, upon the young Squire as he made his answer.

    Ralph the Heir Anthony Trollope
  • He had put her aside without a qualm; and now he met her announcement with approval.

    K Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • He went in first, so he did not see the qualm that seized me on the doorstep.

    We and the World, Part II. (of II.) Juliana Horatia Ewing
  • 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
  • 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.

    Frank Merriwell's Cruise Burt L. Standish
  • 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.

    Cousin Henry Anthony Trollope
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 Forms
qualmish, adjective
qualmishly, adverb
qualmishness, noun
Word Origin
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
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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
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