Quail (verb)
Posted: 09 July 2016 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Boris Johnson in his post-Brexit speech says, “This is no time to quail.” I’ve never heard this usage before (though much of what Johnson says is opaque to me). He seems to mean “Lose courage, become faint or feeble” but the OED marks it as “Now rare”.

Is it? Or asking another way, was it understood by British hearers without need of explanation?

My reading without looking it up was “This is no time for argument or dissent.”

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Posted: 09 July 2016 12:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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M-W gives these definitions:

intransitive verb

1 a chiefly dialect :  wither, decline
b :  to give way :  falter <his courage never quailed>

2:  to recoil in dread or terror :  cower <the strongest quail before financial ruin — Samuel Butler †1902>

The second (i.e., 2, not 1b) is the most familiar to me, and I think it pretty common on either side of the pond.  It’s what I would assume Johnson intended.

[ Edited: 09 July 2016 02:46 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 09 July 2016 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, I’d say Boris was definitely using the 2nd sense, it’s common in the UK. The first sense given would indeed be rare.

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Posted: 10 July 2016 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I had never encountered the first sense before: complete news to me. As for the second sense being understood in the UK, consider this sexist old gag:

“If she doesn’t quail or grouse, it means she’s game.”

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Posted: 10 July 2016 11:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Never heard that one before but it sounds about right for the upper echelons of English society. I googled “quail or grouse” and “she’s game” but nothing turned up. Is it still current in the PC age we live in?

I think Johnson was using “quail” in the less common sense 1b, to falter, in the face of people’s reactions to the Brexit vote.

[ Edited: 10 July 2016 11:39 PM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 11 July 2016 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’ve encountered the 2nd meaning in literature, never the first.

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Posted: 11 July 2016 04:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 10 July 2016 01:45 AM

“If she doesn’t quail or grouse, it means she’s game.”

<lack sense of humor>
I should think if she doesn’t quail or grouse she isn’t game.
</lack>

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