from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun An uneasy feeling about the propriety or rightness of a course of action.
  • noun A sudden disturbing feeling.
  • noun A sudden feeling of sickness, faintness, or nausea.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun Illness; disease; pestilence; plague.
  • noun A sudden attack of illness; a turn of faintness or suffering; a throe or throb of pain.
  • noun Especially, a sudden fit or seizure of sickness at the stomach; a sensation of nausea.
  • noun A scruple or twinge of conscience; compunction; uneasiness.
  • noun The boding cry of a raven.
  • To be sick; suffer from qualms.
  • To cause pain or qualms.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun obsolete Sickness; disease; pestilence; death.
  • noun A sudden attack of illness, faintness, or pain; an agony.
  • noun Especially, a sudden sensation of nausea.
  • noun A prick or scruple of conscience; uneasiness of conscience; compunction.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Mortality; plague; pestilence.
  • noun A calamity or disaster.

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

  • noun uneasiness about the fitness of an action
  • noun a mild state of nausea


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

[Origin unknown.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English qualm, cwalm ("death, sickness, plague"), from Old English cwealm (West Saxon: "death, disaster, plague"), ūtcualm (Anglian: "utter destruction"), from Proto-Germanic *kwalmaz (“killing, death, destruction”), from Proto-Indo-European *gʷel- (“to stick, pierce; pain, injury, death”). Related to cwelan ("to die,") cwellan ("to kill"). The other suggested etymology, less satisfying, is from Dutch kwalm "steam, vapor, mist," which also may be ultimately from the same Germanic root as quell. Sense softened to "feeling of faintness" 1530; meaning "uneasiness, doubt" is from 1553; that of "scruple of conscience" is 1649. An indirect connection between the Old English and modern senses is plausible, via the notion of "fit of sickness."


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word qualm.



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • I wonder...can you have just *one* qualm or do you have to have several? ;-)

    April 5, 2007

  • I have my qualms about that particular use...

    April 5, 2007

  • German for 'fog/murk'.

    January 9, 2008

  • You will be amused when you see that I have more than once deceived without the slightest qualm of conscience, both knaves and fools.

    (Giacomo Casanova)

    March 18, 2008