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[kwil] /kwɪl/
one of the large feathers of the wing or tail of a bird.
the hard, hollow, basal part of a feather.
a feather, as of a goose, formed into a pen for writing.
one of the hollow spines on a porcupine or hedgehog.
a plectrum of a harpsichord.
a roll of bark, as of cinnamon, formed in drying.
a reed or other hollow stem on which yarn is wound.
a bobbin or spool.
a toothpick.
  1. a hollow shaft or sleeve through which another independently rotating shaft may pass.
  2. a shaft, joined to and supported by two other shafts or machines, for transmitting motion from one to the other.
  3. a rotating toolholder used in boring or facing internal angles.
a musical pipe, especially one made from a hollow reed.
verb (used with object)
  1. to arrange (fabric) in flutes or cylindrical ridges, as along the edge of a garment, hem, etc.
  2. to wind on a quill, as yarn.
to penetrate with, or as if with, a quill or quills.
to extract a quill or quills from:
to quill a duck before cooking it.
late Middle English
1375-1425; late Middle English quil; compare Low German quiele, German Kiel
Related forms
quill-like, adjective
Can be confused
quail, quell, quill. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for quills
  • The myth dovetails neatly with current theories on the subject: such fineness, it's thought, must have been made with quills.
  • Porcupine quills are barbed, and tend to work their way deeper into flesh over time if not extracted.
  • Snakes will swallow porcupines with their quills, deer with their antlers, and goats with their horns.
  • Their quills are loosely attached and come off easily as they brush against a predator.
  • The beauty of the quills has graced baskets, clothing, and other items for hundreds of years.
  • quills lost in defense, or those that simply fall out, grow back in a matter of months.
  • Its quills were incorporated in elaborate embroidered pieces, baskets and artwork.
  • Porcupines are protected by stiff quills, but there's no need to fear these gentle animals.
  • The scribes require quills that are both strong and supple.
  • The technique involves sanitizing the fibers, then removing them from feather quills.
British Dictionary definitions for quills


  1. any of the large stiff feathers of the wing or tail of a bird
  2. the long hollow central part of a bird's feather; calamus
a bird's feather made into a pen for writing
any of the stiff hollow spines of a porcupine or hedgehog
a device, formerly usually made from a crow quill, for plucking a harpsichord string
(angling) a length of feather barb stripped of barbules and used for the body of some artificial flies
a small roll of bark, esp one of dried cinnamon
(in weaving) a bobbin or spindle
a fluted fold, as in a ruff
a hollow shaft that rotates upon an inner spindle or concentrically about an internal shaft
verb (transitive)
to wind (thread, yarn, etc) onto a spool or bobbin
to make or press fluted folds in (a ruff)
Word Origin
C15 (in the sense: hollow reed or pipe): of uncertain origin; compare Middle Low German quiele quill
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 quills



c.1400, "piece of reed or hollow stem of a feather," probably related to Middle High German kil "quill," from Low German quiele, of unknown origin. Meaning "pen made from a (goose) quill" is from 1550s; that of "porcupine spine" is from c.1600.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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quills in Science
  1. The hollow shaft of a feather, the bottom of which attaches to the bird's skin.

  2. One of the sharp hollow spines of a porcupine or hedgehog.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for quills



A folded matchbook cover used to hold heroin or cocaine for sniffing (1960s+ Narcotics)

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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Encyclopedia Article for quills


hollow, horny barrel of a bird's feather, used as the principal writing instrument from the 6th century until the mid-19th century, when steel pen points were introduced. The strongest quills were obtained from living birds in their new growth period in the spring. Only the five outer wing feathers (follicles) were considered suitable for writing; the second and third were especially preferred. Quills from the left wing were favoured because the feathers curve outward and away from a right-handed writer.

Learn more about quill with a free trial on
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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