Q is for Querulous

Cup of coffee with a queen's crown designed with the froth.Querulous seems a fitting “q” word, mostly because the letter sees little use unless one serves a queen or plays Scrabble. Querulous, though, produces a small Scrabble score with all its vowels and “l” and “s.” A better option would be quiz or quagmire.

Perhaps as a result of that competition, the letter “q” constantly fights for representation. It acts querulous because the behavior guarantees attention—albeit of the negative kind. Fortunately, “q” starts other, more positive words, some of which are defined and used below.


Noun. (c. 1919) An armed ship disguised as a merchant or fishing ship and used to decoy enemy submarines into gun range.

(During World War I, fishing and merchant ships were pressed into service as Q-ships.)


Noun. [Imitation.] (1300s) A noised made by quacking.

Verb intransitive. (1617) To make the characteristic cry of a duck.

Verb intransitive. (1628) To play the quack.

Noun. [Short for quacksalver.] (1638) CHARLATAN. A pretender to medical skill. Adjective: quackish.

Adjective. (1653) Of, relating to, or characteristic of a quack; especially: pretending to cure diseases.

(Benjamin’s face paled when he realized how much money his mother had paid to the gentleman who turned out to be nothing more than a quack doctor.)


Noun. [From the French, a group of knights engaged in a carousel. From the Spanish cuadrilla, troop; from cuarto, fourth.] (1726) A fourhanded variant of ombre popular especially in the eighteenth century. A square dance for four couples made up of five or six figures chiefly in a 6/8 and 2/4 time; also: music for this dance.

Adjective. [From the French quadrillé.] (c. 1885) Marked with squares and rectangles.

(The quadrille remains popular today; however, few probably know its roots rest with knighthood.)


Noun. (1530) Soft, miry land that shakes or yields under the foot. A difficult, precarious, or entrapping position: PREDICAMENT.

(Alyson possessed a knack for turning the simplest situation into a quagmire—people who knew of her talent avoided her at parties.)


Noun. [From the Scottish Gaelic cuach.] Chiefly Scottish. (1673) A small, shallow drinking vessel with ears for use as handles. Also spelled quaigh.

(The Viking filled his quaich with wine stolen during a raid on a passing merchant longship.)


Noun. [Origin unknown.] (1530) A sudden attack of illness, faintness, or nausea. A sudden access of, usually disturbing emotion (as doubt, fear, or tenderness). A feeling of uneasiness about a point of conscience, honor, or propriety. Adjective: qualmy.

Synonyms: QUALM, SCRUPLE, COMPUNCTION, and DEMUR mean a misgiving about what one is doing or going to do. QUALM implies an uneasy fear that one is not following one’s conscience or better judgment. SCRUPLE implies doubt of the rightness of an act on ground of principle. COMPUNCTION implies a spontaneous feeling of responsibility or compassion for a potential victim. DEMUR implies hesitation caused by objection to an outside suggestion or influence.

(When the interviewer said the job called for working odd hours with little to no warning, Amelia felt a momentary qualm about moving forward with the hiring process.)


Noun. [Coined by Murray Gell-Mann, born 1929, an American physicist.] (1964) A hypothetical particle that carries a fractional electric charge, is thought to come in several types (as up, down, strange, charmed, and bottom), and is held to be a constituent of hadrons.

(When Michael launched into a monologue about a charmed quark, his friends smiled and shrugged. They were accustomed to his dining hall digressions.)


Verb, verb intransitive. [From the Middle English quaveren; frequentative of quaven, to tremble.] (1400s) TREMBLE. TRILL. To utter sound in tremulous tones.

Noun. (1570) EIGHTH NOTE. TRILL. A tremulous sound.

(She couldn’t prevent the quaver in her voice as she talked about her short-term mission trip to Greece.)


Verb transitive. [From the Middle English quellen, to kill, quell. From the Old English cwellan, to kill; akin to the Old High German quellen, to torture, kill; quāla, torment. From the Greek belonē, needle.] (1300s) To thoroughly overwhelm and reduce to submission or passivity <~ a riot>. QUIET, PACIFY <~ fears>.

Noun. [From the Middle English quellen.] (1400s) Obsolete: SLAUGHTER. Archaic: the power of quelling.

(His domineering personality quelled almost all of his friends into submission.)


Verb, verb intransitive. (1656) CAVIL, CARP. BICKER. To evade the point of an argument by caviling about words.

Noun. [Probably a diminutive of obsolete quib (quibble).] (1670) An evasion of or shift from the point. A minor objection or criticism.

(The politician so often quibbled about details that his constituents wondered if he held any strong opinions about, well, anything.)


Noun. [From the Medieval Latin quidditas, essence. From the Latin quid, what; neuter of quis, who—more at WHO.] (1539) A trifling point: QUIBBLE. CROTCHET, ECCENTRICITY. Whatever makes something to be of the type that it is: ESSENCE.

(Margaret became known for a quiddity: the adoption of cat after cat after cat.)


Noun. [Earlier quippy. Perhaps from the Latin quippe, indeed, to be sure of (often ironical); from quid, what—more at QUIDDITY.] (1532) A clever, usually taunting remark: GIBE. A witty or funny observation or response usually made on the spur of the moment. QUIBBLE, EQUIVOCATION. Something strange, droll, curious, or eccentric: ODDITY. Synonym: JEST.

Verb, verb intransitive. (1579) To make quips: GIBE.

(Ariel could floor a room with her well-timed quips.)


Adjective. (1800) Slightly eccentric: ODD. Marked or characterized by bantering or teasing. INQUISITIVE, QUESTIONING.

(The professor’s constantly quizzical facial expression earned him the love and ribbing of students.)


Noun. [From the Middle English, quorum of justices of the peace. From the Latin, of whom, general plural of qui, who; from the wording of the commission formerly issued to justices of the peace.] (1400s) The number, usually a majority, of officers or members of a body that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business. A select group. A Mormon body comprising those in the same grade of priesthood.

(Since the HOA failed to meet quorum, no new by-laws were passed at the November meeting.)

What are your favorite “q” words? Leave them in a comment below.

Image: Florian (Creative Commons)

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