July 22, 2015

Case File #015.07.22: QUELL

While it isn't exactly an innocuous word itself, the verb quell has an even more sinister ancestry. Its family tree is ultimately rooted in the Proto-Germanic verb kwaljan, which meant “to make suffer” or “to inflict pain.” This passed over to Old English as cwellan, meaning “to kill or murder,” but when Old English gave way to Middle English during the twelfth century, the spelling changed to quellen and the word was used to mean “to put to death” and “to destroy.” At the dawn of the thirteenth century, the verb's form changed again to the now familiar quell, and not long after, its mortiferous meanings were jettisoned and the milder contemporary senses of “to suppress, subdue, or silence” and “to forcibly induce submission or passivity” came into use.

©2015 Michael R. Gates

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