Definition of quill in English:



  • 1Any of the main wing or tail feathers of a bird.

    • ‘When the quills begin to loosen, the bird removes them and is then ready to care for the new feathers.’
    • ‘It was hunted extensively by natives for food and feathers, and its numbers began to decline when a market developed in European settlements for its skin, feathers, down, and quills.’
    • ‘Outside the banquet hall there was a small oak table, upon which rested a yellowed parchment and a droopy quill of some exotic bird.’
    • ‘Each quill is conspicuously marked with black and white bands.’
    • ‘Throughout our period various breeds of birds were used to supply different quills, including duck, goose, swan and pheasant.’
    • ‘She learned how to strip the sinews from the tendons and make the string for the bow, how to select the best willows for the shaft of the arrows, how to bind the goose quills to the shaft with gut and gum.’
    1. 1.1 The hollow shaft of a feather, especially the lower part or calamus that lacks barbs.
      • ‘Beneath the ash was the oddest, most brilliant bird she had ever seen: gold skin, covered in spiky quills that would someday turn into red-and-orange feathers.’
      • ‘By the way, they're born with soft quills, and the quills harden up within about six to eight hours after birth.’
      • ‘Any suitable material may be used, including quill, parchment, wood, ivory, bone, horn, tortoiseshell, and plastic.’
      • ‘Its plectra - which pluck the strings to produce the harpsichord's sound - were replaced using black turkey quills, and the instrument now produces a sound as close as possible to how it would have sounded when made by Haxby.’
      • ‘Crane genomic DNA was extracted from adult feather quills using a sodium hydroxide boiling method.’
      • ‘It has a great many tiny, very fluffy ‘miniature feathers’ and no long feathers or quills.’
      • ‘The clothing is made from white caribou hides and sewn with sinew, using split bird quills on the seams.’
      • ‘Dubbed Kryoryctes cadburyi - as in Cadbury chocolate - the dinosaur-era mammal was roughly the size of a large cat, covered with quills, and toothless.’
      • ‘We were especially careful in excluding specimens in molt by checking all specimens for the presence of feather quills.’
      • ‘They are feather-like in that they are hollow and ‘resemble most closely the plumules of modem birds, having relatively short quills and long, filamentous barbs’.’
      feather, crest
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 A pen made from a main wing or tail feather of a large bird by pointing and slitting the end of the shaft.
      ‘he leant over his writing desk, quill in hand’
      • ‘Lowering his quill once more, the ink trailed in a continuous line, curving and twisting on the paper.’
      • ‘Row upon row of desks was spread out before the panel in an intricate latticework, and numerous academy students were already scribbling furiously onto sheets of parchments with well-inked quills.’
      • ‘His head bent in deep thought, he bit his lip in uncertainty while lowering his quill to the parchment.’
      • ‘Most contemporary calligraphers, however, are used to writing with metal pens; they are not used to using quills, cutting them each time they sit down to write.’
      • ‘Although metal nibs are recorded as early as the 16th century they were not much used until the last quarter of the 19th when they began to replace quills.’
      • ‘Now no-one's suggesting that we all go back to the old leather bound ledgers, with the day's business written in copperplate with a feather quill.’
      • ‘It will retain aspects of its heritage - such as signing the loss book with a quill pen - as a way of reaffirming its long history, continuity and stability.’
      • ‘And there it was, in plain sight by the door, with a small knife, the kind used to sharpen quills, hanging next to it.’
      • ‘The film shows the surgeon teaching his students by illustrating the successful procedure he has just carried out - he uses forceps as a quill pen and the patient's blood as his ink.’
      • ‘I wondered how long my pens would last: I'd used quills before, and would much rather use a ballpoint or even a modern calligraphic pen.’
      • ‘I decided to use a wing feather from a golden eagle [Aquila chrysaetos], which is of course beautiful, reminiscent of both flight and of a quill pen.’
      • ‘Red's legacy as the color used in correcting papers and marking mistakes goes back to the 1700s, the era of the quill pen.’
      • ‘Filled with misery, he removed a roll of blank paper from the pocket of his robe, and slowly he began to write, using the quill pen he always kept with him.’
      • ‘I'm sure there were those who lamented the demise of the quill pen and inkstand in the classroom.’
      • ‘In one arm, he cradled a stack of books, and in the other, a leather satchel full of feather quills and dozens of tiny glass bottles.’
      • ‘She rummaged through it and pulled out a thick leather bound book, a feathered quill and a small pot of ink.’
      • ‘Remember, this was a time of horse and buggy, feather quills and the most sophisticated appliance in the family home would've been an oil lamp.’
      • ‘Writers look to their quills, while painters care for horsehair and camel with as much care as palette and pigment.’
      • ‘All this might make you want to toss your computer into the nearest toxic waste dump and go back to writing letters with a quill pen.’
      • ‘A candle sat on the left corner of the desk, next to which sat a quill pen, a blotter, an inkwell, and various other writing necessities.’
  • 2The hollow sharp spines of a porcupine, hedgehog, or other spiny mammal.

    • ‘A porcupine road kill between Yellowknife and Hay River provided a good quantity of quills to start off with.’
    • ‘The quills are not poisonous, the wound becomes septic simply because of the dirt on the quills, and bacteria always thrive where there is dirt.’
    • ‘These elaborately painted masks represent a pair of horned animals, each with a porcupine quill sprouting from its head.’
    • ‘Now the quills, they rattle their quills if they are being alarmed.’
    • ‘I was actually stuck with a porcupine quill once and had to go to the hospital to get it out.’
    • ‘Between Komfokorum and Dompoase, a man dangles a rat the size of a rabbit in front of our windscreen, trying to sell us bush meat; beneath his tarpaulin, I can see the brushy quills of something resembling a porcupine.’
    • ‘With its back arched, head tucked away and peeping backwards underneath its belly, the porcupine turns its back on the attacker and charges, the idea being to drive the sharp quills into the attacker.’
    • ‘They were decorated with porcupine quills, cut fringes, and simple geometric designs often colored with earth pigments.’
    • ‘An adult porcupine has approximately 30,000 quills on its body, which are replaced every year.’
    • ‘The quills are so lightly fixed to the porcupine's body that they are easily detached and left embedded in the attacker.’
    • ‘Such cooperation, however, can be compared to two porcupines cuddling up to stay warm - they can't avoid harming each other with their quills.’
    • ‘In anger, she attacks the porcupine, and her nose is filled with quills.’
    • ‘Meeting a porcupine, he knows its tricks; he was a victim of its quills before.’
    • ‘Yet display can also conceal, as the raised quills of a porcupine disguise the vulnerability and true size of its actual body.’
    • ‘Usually when approached these spiky creatures stop and raise their quills in defence as they dig themselves into the ground.’
    • ‘Several days were then spent learning how to sew the porcupine quills into decorative motifs on the clothing and attaching the silverberry seeds to the fringes.’
    • ‘The presence of bite marks indicated social stress and porcupine quills showed that the leopard had been in constant pain.’
    • ‘That's hard to imagine, given the creature's resistance to domestication and its propensity for using its quills to keep humans away.’
    • ‘Among the most beautiful objects depicted are those with woven porcupine quills dyed many colors.’
    prickle, spine, thorn, barb
    View synonyms
  • 3quills

    ‘a dish of pasta quills tossed in a spicy tomato sauce’
    another term for penne
    • ‘I could certainly do something simple with pasta quills and a can of plum tomatoes.’
  • 4quillsUS dated, informal Pan pipes.


  • Form (fabric) into small cylindrical folds.

    • ‘Clearly a master of her modest medium, she folds paper into facets, quills it into curlicues and cuts it into intricate, lacelike filigree.’
    • ‘It was a gift of a beautiful piece of quilled and layered paper work, along with an unbelievably neat inscription, all presented in one of the best examples of the frame-maker's craft I've seen in a long, long time.’


Late Middle English (in the senses ‘hollow stem’ and ‘shaft of a feather’): probably from Middle Low German quiele.