Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • intransitive v. To quiver, as from weakness; tremble.
  • intransitive v. To speak in a quivering voice; utter a quivering sound.
  • intransitive v. Music To produce a trill on an instrument or with the voice.
  • transitive v. To utter or sing in a trilling voice.
  • n. A quivering sound.
  • n. A trill.
  • n. Chiefly British An eighth note.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. a trembling shake.
  • n. a trembling of the voice, as in speaking or singing.
  • n. an eighth note, drawn as a crotchet (quarter note) with a tail.
  • v. to shake in a trembling manner.
  • v. to use the voice in a trembling manner, as in speaking or singing.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A shake, or rapid and tremulous vibration, of the voice, or of an instrument of music.
  • n. An eighth note. See Eighth.
  • intransitive v. To tremble; to vibrate; to shake.
  • intransitive v. Especially, to shake the voice; to utter or form sound with rapid or tremulous vibrations, as in singing; also, to trill on a musical instrument.
  • transitive v. To utter with quavers.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To have a tremulous motion; tremble; vibrate.
  • To sing or sound with the wavy tones of an untrained voice, or with a distinctly tremulous tone; hence, to sing, in general; also, to perform a shake or similar melodic embellishment with the voice or an instrument.
  • To sing in an artless manner or with tremulous tone.
  • n. A quivering; a trembling.
  • n. A tremulous or quivering sound or tone.
  • n. A shake or similar embellishment, particularly in vocal music.
  • n. An eighth-note (which see).

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a tremulous sound
  • v. give off unsteady sounds, alternating in amplitude or frequency
  • v. sing or play with trills, alternating with the half note above or below
  • n. a musical note having the time value of an eighth of a whole note

Etymologies

Middle English quaveren, probably frequentative of cwavien, quaven, to tremble.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English quaveren, frequentative form of quaven, cwavien ("to tremble"), equivalent to quave +‎ -er. Cognate with Low German quabbeln ("to quiver"), German quabbeln, quappeln ("to quiver"). More at quave, quab, quiver. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The English term for eighth-notes gets it right with "quaver", since these and other notes can do exactly that when played with alternating intensity, and even, suggests Quantz, duration.

    CounterPunch

  • When I have something to say, I do not waver and quaver around it like this.

    Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway

  • It does not matter, though, because even philosophers quaver in the face of death, Socrates notwithstanding.

    This Dark And Mourning Earth | Her Bad Mother

  • She speaks with cheerful firmness but I can hear the quaver in her voice.

    Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer

  • “Cal,” Maggie said coming toward him, a quaver in her voice.

    Three Stages of Amazement

  • She heard the quaver in her voice and steadied it.

    Choker

  • “Zo, listen, I know this is weird, but I just feel like I have to ask—” Cara could hear her voice quaver.

    Choker

  • And instead, clear as a bell and distinct, without the slightest shake or quaver, came George's voice through the megaphone:

    An Adventure in the Upper Sea

  • He dabbed his eyes, trying desperately to control the quaver in his voice.

    The Persistence of Memory

  • Though Bruce Springsteen's gruff bark is an uncomfortable fit with Davies's camp quaver, they recast Better Things as a Byrdsy ramble that's an improvement on the original's clumping new wave.

    Ray Davies: See My Friends - review

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