Wednesday 12 September 2012


Somebody mentioned having "no qualms" about something on Saturday night, and it made me wonder what a qualm actually was. A quick check in the dictionary told me that a qualm could be the cry of a raven. But the qualm of conscience turned out to be one of those weakening words, like naughty.

Back in Old English qualm meant violent death, pestilence and plague. In fact, a qualm was anything that was monstrously and bloodily horrific. A qualm-house was a torture chamber, a qualm-stow was a place of execution.

Then, in the sixteenth century, it started to mean a period of suffering, like a bout of fever. Then it began to mean a brief illness, and then a faint feeling of discomfort. And it's from that last meaning that we get the modern ever-so-delicate qualm of conscience.

This means, that you can have no qualms about committing qualms.

Now, I'm off to a qualm-house to feel qualmish.

Many qualms and none.

This is another repost, until I'm digitally remastered.


  1. Is it in any way connected to the word "quell", which (if I'm not mistaken) also used to mean something along the lines of "to kill" before it shifted?

    1. Is to 'quell' a derivative of the word 'squelch'?

  2. Quell and qualm both go back to Old English cwelan meaning die. Squelch is unrelated, I'm afraid.

    1. Oh, very cool! Too bad about "squelch," though.

      Thanks much.