What Does Give No Quarter Mean?

Give No Quarter Meaning

Definition: Show no mercy.

Origin of Give No Quarter

This phrase comes from the ancient practice of sparing the lives of enemy combatants who have come into one’s power.

In a war, sometimes one army would take prisoners from the other side. They would have give or “grant quarter” to these prisoners. In other words, they’d have to find somewhere for the prisoners to live while imprisoned.

If army leaders commanded their soldiers to give no quarter, this meant to take no prisoners. In other words, kill all of the opponents, even if they surrendered. Over time, people began to use this military command figuratively, meaning to show no compassion.

This is the most straightforward explanation for this idiom. However, sources speculate that it may have developed through some other way. There is no definitive proof for any of the theories.

Examples of Give No Quarter

we give no quarter In this example, two sisters are discussing their strategy for roller derby.

Amy: You’ve been part of a roller derby team for a while now. Do you like it?

Kimberly: Yes, I love the competitiveness, and I love skating!

Amy: I’ve been thinking about joining a team as well. Are people friendly?

Kimberly: Sure. My teammates are really friendly. But when we’re playing against another team we give no quarter. We are ruthless when trying to win the game.

Amy: Hmmm. Maybe it is too competitive for me.

give them no quarter In the second example, two friends are discussing the civil war reenactment that they will be doing soon.

Keira: So what do I need to know to do a good job at this civil war reenactment?

Rory: Well, for this battle, the soldiers were told to give no quarter. So you can’t take any prisoners, and you should show no compassion.

Keira: Okay. That sounds as if it was terrible during the real battle, but it should be fun for the reenactment.

More Examples

This excerpt uses the expression to describe how the leader of Germany would show no compassion to those showing prejudice.

  • Survivors and liberators alike recalled on Sunday the horror of the Dachau concentration camp and the overwhelming relief of its liberation 70 years ago. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to keep alive the memory of Nazi crimes and give no quarter to present-day discrimination or anti-Semitism. –Chicago Tribune

This excerpt uses the expression to describe a modern fight between Iraq and the Islamic State.

  • Meanwhile, surrounded and with no chance to escape, the militants are expected to give no quarter in what is their last stand in the city. –LA Times

Summary

The expression give no quarter means take no prisoners in war, and it means give no compassion in other situations.

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