What is the meaning of 'called for quarter' in this phrase from Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop, Chapter 6?

With which defiances the dwarf flourished his cudgel, and dancing round the combatants and treading upon them and skipping over them, in a kind of frenzy, laid about him, now on one and now on the other, in a most desperate manner, always aiming at their heads and dealing such blows as none but the veriest little savage would have inflicted. This being warmer work than they had calculated upon, speedily cooled the courage of the belligerents, who scrambled to their feet and called for quarter.

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    Your assignment: look up "quarter" in a dictionary, and see if you can find one of the meanings that fits here. Report your results within the question. Sep 21, 2022 at 6:28
  • pity or mercy shown towards an enemy or opponent who is in one's power.
    – Asmaa
    Sep 21, 2022 at 6:34
  • Quarter here means mercy
    – Asmaa
    Sep 21, 2022 at 6:41

1 Answer 1


Wikipedia has a nice article on the phrase "no quarter" which means that "during military conflict [...] combatants would not be taken prisoner, but killed."

Wikipedia gives 3 possible etymologies and the first two are:

  1. "[...the] victorious army [...] will not quarter (house) captured enemy combatants."

  2. "[...] quarter [...] can mean 'Relations with, or conduct towards, another'. [...] So 'no quarter' may also mean refusal to enter into an agreement (relations) with an enemy attempting to surrender.

So, to "call for quarter" would mean to ask to be taken prisoner, i.e. to surrender.

  • Good answer. Not just in content, but as a reminder that the Wikipedia is a good place to answer questions like this.
    – Global Charm
    Sep 21, 2022 at 15:30

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