- noun a small game bird (Coturnix coturnix), now reared to produce oven-ready birds and also for their eggs
- A small game bird, Coturnix coturnix, now protected in the wild but farmed for table use. The English version is usually more tasteless than the french which has a yellow flesh from being corn-fed. Usually barded and roasted at 220°C for 25 minutes and served one per person on buttered toast garnished with watercress.
- noun a girl, young woman, or females viewed as sex objects. This equating of the female with the game bird is approximately three hundred years old, surviving in the language of American high-school and college students, where predatory males also talk of going out ‘loaded for quail’ (ready or equipped for seduction).
- noun a little game bird, often eaten roasted or stuffed
Origin & History of “quail”
Quail the bird (14th c.) and quail ‘cower’ (15th c.) are not related. The former comes via Old French quaille from medieval Latin coacula, which probably originated in imitation of the bird’s grating cry. It is not known for certain where the verb (which originally meant ‘decline, wither, give way’) came from, although some have linked it with another verb quail, now obsolete, which meant ‘curdle’. this came via Old French quailler from Latin coāgulāre, source of English coagulate.