Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
January 16th, 2016
Episode 425 of 823 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 16, 2016 is: qualm \KWAHM\ noun 1 : a sudden attack of illness, faintness, or nausea 2 : a sudden feeling of doubt, fear, or uneasiness especially in not following one's conscience or better judgment Examples: Some people have no qualms about correcting other people's grammar. "I also still do something that more than one passenger has found amazing…. It's this: If I think I'm somewhat near my destination, I have no qualms about pulling into a gas station or up to a store and asking for directions." — Ed Goldman, The Sacramento (California) Business Journal, 24 Sept. 2015 Did you know? Etymologists aren't sure where qualm originated, but they do know it entered English around 1530. Originally, it referred to a sudden sick feeling. Robert Louis Stevenson made use of this older sense in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: "A qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering." Soon after qualm entered the language, it came to designate not only sudden attacks of illness, but also sudden attacks of emotion or principle. In The Sketch Book, for example, Washington Irving wrote, "Immediately after one of these fits of extravagance, he will be taken with violent qualms of economy…." Eventually, qualm took on the specific (and now most common) meaning of doubt or uneasiness, particularly in not following one's conscience or better judgment.