Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Have You Ever Been Qualmish?


Qualmish, adj. Sick at the stomach; inclined to vomit; affected with nausea.

~Virginia Folk-Speech 1899


Several years ago I used the word qualmish in a vocabulary test. Only a few readers were familiar with it. I hardly ever hear the word these days, but it still describes perfectly the way I feel when I’m suffering from car sickness.

The word is not in my “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English“. I jumped over to the Online Etymology Dictionary to see if it included the word. It did not. However it did have this entry:

“qualm (n.)
Old English cwealm (West Saxon) “death, murder, slaughter; disaster; plague; torment,” utcualm (Anglian) “utter destruction,” probably related to cwellan “to kill, murder, execute,” cwelan “to die” (see quell). Sense softened to “feeling of faintness” 1520s; figurative meaning “uneasiness, doubt” is from 1550s; that of “scruple of conscience” is 1640s.

Evidence of a direct path from the Old English to the modern senses is wanting, but it is plausible, via the notion of “fit of sickness.” The other suggested etymology, less satisfying, is to take the “fit of uneasiness” sense from Dutch kwalm “steam, vapor, mist” (cognate with German Qualm “smoke, vapor, stupor”), which also might be ultimately from the same Germanic root as quell.”

Makes me wonder if qualmish is a corruption of qualm. Nevertheless, the word’s meaning is one I don’t like to feel, but always do when I’m riding in a car around curvy mountain roads.


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  • Reply
    Cheryl Jarke
    October 6, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    As a kid, I often heard my great-gramma (Pennsylvanian Appalachian) use the word “squammy”, meaning nauseated. My kids (NE Ohio) used to call it “puke-ified”. The words, they are a-changin’.

  • Reply
    Grandma Cate
    November 2, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Sure seems like qualmish fits the old definition of “… ; disaster; plague; torment,” when it’s you who’s feeling it!

  • Reply
    Carley Windsor
    December 26, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    I’m new to this forum and I must say, I love it!! Appalachian words are so lovely, and even tho we’re considered the tail-end of the region (Northeast Alabama), the vocabulary is just as unique as the hollers of East Tennessee! My Grannie used the word “peaked” (pronounced pee-kid). As in, “Are you not feeling good? You look a might peaked”…we also say “weak stomached”… keep up the awesome work, I can’t get enough!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 10, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Haven’t heard this one. I think we called it being quesy. Or icky sicky according to Mama who had a ton of that kind of sayings.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 10, 2018 at 11:51 am

    I don’t recognise the word but am quite familiar with condition. Have you ever heard it called a “weak stomach”?

    • Reply
      October 10, 2018 at 7:05 pm

      Ed-yes I’ve heard and used weak stomach 🙂

  • Reply
    Pat Young
    October 10, 2018 at 11:24 am


  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 10, 2018 at 10:59 am

    I may have not heard the word “Qualmish”, but I know what car sickness is. One time they were running a Revival at Alarka and we went. Me and Harold sung at Churches all around when I was little. To get there, we traveled through that crooked Nantahala Gorge. Mama wasn’t the only one who got car sick. We got into it and I told her “alright, the next time I’ll not Puke with you anymore.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 10, 2018 at 10:16 am

    How timely. I have felt qualmish all yesterday, last night and so far today. But I never heard that word before. Yesterday I was woozy and qualmish.

    I can’t tell which one of your girls is in the picture. But bless her heart she looked so miserable. That look tugs at a parent’s heart.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2018 at 9:56 am

    Ive never heard it, but I probable would know what you meant by the look in your eyes, nothing like the look of a person who’s about to throw-up, more familiar with squimmess.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2018 at 9:14 am

    It is one of those words that you know immediately what it means. Nothing worse than that ole car sick feeling. Those old cars with tiny windows were my worst nightmare as a child. One of the worst mistakes I ever made was taking my dog with me to see patients in the mountains, and she got qualmish–poor doggie. poor car seats. I once took a trainee who got so sick she could not do the job, and she quit shortly after..I thought that was history from my childhood until I tried writing down directions while somebody else drove. I still use maps and written directions because the GPS will lead you through a cornfield in the mountains. Sometimes better to stick to the old methods and words. One word I heard often was te-jus, and it was just the Appalachian way of saying tedious.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 10, 2018 at 8:54 am

    You got me, I’ve never heard nor used Qualmish.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2018 at 8:46 am

    I grew up hearing squimmish, instead of squeamish, a word with the same meaning as qualmish. Car sickness is a perfect example of feeling pukey. It’s not as bad when I’m driving, so everyone knows they will be a passenger if they go anywhere with me.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 10, 2018 at 8:37 am

    I don’t remember ever hearing qualmish, but I have heard queasy to describe a slightly nauseous feeling.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2018 at 8:26 am

    What about squeamish and queasy, also meaning easily nauseated, both originated from the word squaymisch, as did squamous. Grandma talked about feeling uneasy, and having a queasy feeling in her stomach. Like you say, we don’t hear these much anymore, but it makes you feel good when you do. The old words and the old ways are still alive, thanks to good people like you and your readers.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2018 at 8:14 am

    I’ve used the phrase “some qualms about it”. I thought it meant some doubts or hesitation about an issue. Qualmish is a good word, I guess it’s not the same as “feeling puny” but it’s close.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    October 10, 2018 at 7:00 am

    I don’t believe I ever heard qualmish although I use the word qualms.
    My Father in law often used dauncy in a similar manner when he felt bad and was a little picky over his food.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 10, 2018 at 6:59 am

    I never heard the word but it immediatly makes it’s meaning clear

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