What does quailing mean?

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: quailing.

I haven’t yet read the book 1789: The Threshold of the Modern Age by David Andress (pictured above),  but I know it uses an impressive vocabulary.

That’s because one of my readers, John Friesen, emailed me three words from it that he appreciated and that were new to him (and to me, too.) The words are: quailing, havering and (my favourite) fissiparous.

Here’s how the author used them:

After their initial quailing at the notion of a presidential executive, the members of the Convention had gone on to find fault with almost every other model of government put before them. 

On February 5, 1788, after much havering a final vote secured ratification. 

The outward signs of European power could not conceal from local chiefs that this was a small and … fissiparous … band, and armed expeditions to gain local cooperation grew more bloody, and also more pointless. 

Quailing, means showing fear or apprehension. It’s thought to originate either from the Middle Dutch word quelen, meaning “to suffer or be ill,” or from the Old French coailler, meaning “to curdle,” which in turn came from the Latin coagulare.

Havering means speaking in a foolish manner (Scottish) or being indecisive (British). The word dates to the 18th century but its origins are now unknown.

Fissiparous — with its marvelous sibilant sound — refers to something that is inclined to divide into separate parts or groups. The word dates back to the mid-19th century, from the Latin fisus, past participle of findere, meaning “to split.”

I may have to read this book simply to improve my vocabulary.

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