1 : to give way : falter
2 : to recoil in dread or terror : cower
Did You Know?
"Flinch," "recoil," and "wince" are all synonyms of "quail," but each word has a slightly different use. When you flinch, you fail to endure pain or to face something dangerous or frightening with resolution ("she faced her accusers without flinching"). "Recoil" implies a start or movement away from something through shock, fear, or disgust ("he recoiled at the suggestion of stealing"). "Wince" usually suggests a slight involuntary physical reaction to something ("she winced as the bright light suddenly hit her eyes"). "Quail" implies shrinking and cowering in fear ("he quailed before the apparition").
Douglas quailed when the dentist told him that he would need a root canal.
"There's an already notorious scene in a bathtub, involving the extraction of toenails, which would send Mary Whitehouse quailing ashen-faced for the exit, if she'd even made it that far." - From a film review by Tom Robey in The (London) Telegraph, November 17, 2011
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