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From Middle English quil, which is first attested in the early 15th century with the meanings "fragment of reed" and "shaft of a feather". Cognate to (and probably derived from) Low German quiele (compare Middle High German kil (large feather, quill), which is derived from the Low German term), further etymology is unknown.

The "porcupine spike" meaning was first attested in the early 17th century.


From Old Irish cuil (fly; flea, gnat).