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Both the OED and Etymonline offer no clue as to origin of the slang term quim, meaning minge.

The OED’s earliest citations are from the 18th, which isn’t quite as old as Adam, but has certainly been around for a long time.

Here are two of its later citations:

  • 1966 P. Willmott Adolescent Boys iii. 50, — I got my hand on her tit and I thought well, that’s all right. So I thought I’d try for her quim.
  • 1974 H. R. F. Keating Underside ii. 25 — Is it worse to have it on me belly than to have it in me quim?

Of course, the Urban Dictionary connects it to queef, but that’s no help at all. What is the real origin of the word quim?

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OED says C18 origin unknown - so anything else is likely to be a guess – mgb Dec 20 '13 at 4:32
    
6000 views and only 7 upvotes? Gotta fix that! – Agostino Jan 19 at 17:53
up vote 7 down vote accepted
+300

Early dictionary coverage of 'quim'

Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) has nine slang terms for "the private parts" of a girl or woman—to wit: bumbo, Carvel's ring, cauliflower, cock alley (or cock lane), commodity, madge, money, muff, and notch, plus an unidentified tenth one, ****, that appears in the entry for cauliflower. My guess is that **** does not stand for quim.

Pierce Egan's 1823 revision of Grose generally uses the term monosyllable in place of "private parts." This edition of the book removes several out-of-date terms from the 1785, and introduces fourteen new ones: black joke, bottomless pit, brown madam (or brown miss), Buckinger's boot, bun, dumb glutton, Eve's custom house, hat (or old hat), Miss Laycock, monosyllable (or venerable monosyllable), mother of all saints, tuzzy-muzzy, water-mill, and (at long last) quim. Here is Grose & Egan's entry for quim:

QUIM. The monosyllable: perhaps, from the Spanish quemar, to burn. (Cambridge.) A piece's furbelow.

This same definition, with "private parts of a woman" in place of "monosyllable" appears in Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811), which presents itself as Grose's original compilation "now considerably altered and enlarged, with the modern changes and improvements, by a member of the Whip Club." So unless Egan is the anonymous member, the inclusion of quim antedates his administration of Grose's dictionary.

John Jamison, Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, volume 2 (1825) has entries for the (possibly unrelated) adjectives queem/quim and quim:

QUEEM, QUIM, adj. 1. Neat, fit, filled up to the general level, Upp. Lanarks., Ettr. For. [Cited example:] When the year grown auld brings water cauld,/We fle till our ha's sae queem. Marmaiden of Clyde, Edin[burgh] Mag[azine] May 1820. 2. Applied to what is made close and tight, ibid. 3. Calm smooth, Gall. [Citation omitted.] 4. Metaph. used, as conjoined with Cosh, to denote intimacy. [Example:] "It shall be observed, that they shall fall in more than ever, into an intimacy with the malignant enemies to the work of God, and grow quim and cosh with them while they are not only cold toward the truly tender, but cruel against them." McWard's Contend. p. 262 "Quim and Cosh, pliable and fit;" Gl. ibid. But this does not properly express the sense. The idea is evidently borrowed from joints that are exactly fitted, and adhere closely to one another.

...

QUIM, adj. Intimate. V. QUEEM.

Jamieson also notes, in connection with the verb "to Queem" (meaning "To fit exactly; as, to queem the mortice, or joint in wood"):

The O.E. v. to Queme, to please, to satisfy, is undoubtedly the same, used in a secondary or oblique sense ; because a thing is said to to please or satisfy, that fits our ideas or wishes.

As for cosh, volume 1 of Jamieson, Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1825) offers these entries:

COSH, adj. 1. Neat, snug. ... 2. Comfortable as including the idea of defence from cold, Ayrs. [Citation and etymological discussion omitted.]

COSH, adj. Denoting such a position that a hollow is left below an object, Galloway.

So "quim and cosh," in Scottish English in the early nineteenth century, seems to have meant something like "snug and tight." The possibility that this phrase made its way south and acquired sexual overtones is unsupported in Google Books search results. It's also somewhat problematic that, though quim is reported in dictionaries like the Lexicon Balatronicum, cosh is nowhere to be found in them.

Further complicating this etymological theory is the possibility that quim, in the form queme, goes back to at least the early seventeenth century. James Halliwell, A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, second edition, volume 2 (1852) has this entry for queme:

QUEME. (1) To please. (A.-S.) [Cited example from Lydgate omitted.] (2) To bequeath ; to leave by legacy. (3) The same as queint, q. v. [The entry for queint reads simply, "The pudendum muliebre."] "I tell you, Hodge, in sooth it was not cleane, it was as black as ever was Malkin's queme," Tumult, play dated 1613, Rawl. MS. Grose has quim, which he derives from the Spanish quemar, to burn. It is, perhaps, connected with the old word queint, which as I am informed by a correspondent at Newcastle, is still used in the North of England by the colliers and common people.

The complication here is that, according to Gordon Williams, A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, volume 1 (1994), the instance that Halliwell cites remains an "untraced (OED) C17 example."

And finally, J.S. Farmer & W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues, volume 5 (1902) identifies several variants of quimqueme, quimsy, quimbox, and quin—but cites only three examples: Halliwell's "old play" from 1613, a ballad from circa 1707 (see the next section below), and Halliwell's dictionary comment on queme.


Early recorded occurrences of 'quim' in the wild

The earliest Google Books match for quim in the relevant sense is in "The Harlot Un-mask'd," a ballad from circa 1707, reprinted in John Farmer, Merry Songs and Ballads Prior to the Year A.D. 1800, volume 4 (1897):

How happy the State does the Damsel possess?/Who would be no greater, nor can be no less:/On her Quim and herself depends for support:/And is better than all the Prime Ladies at Court:/What though she in Grogram and Lindsey does go/Nor boasts of gay Cloathing, to make a fine Show;/A Girl in this dress may be sweeter by far,/Than she that is stitch'd by a Garter and Star,/Than she that is, &c.

Tho' her Hands they are red, and her Bubbies are coarse,/Her Quim for all that, may be never the worse:/A Girl more polite with less Vigour may play,/And her Passion in Accents less charming convey:/What tho' a brisk fellow she sometimes may lack,/When warm with Desire, and stretch'd on her Back:/In this too great Ladies Example afford,/Who oft put a Footman in Room of a Lord,/Who oft put a Footman, &c.

John Farmer is J.S. Farmer, the coauthor of Slang & Its Analogues, and he isn't shy about calling a **** a ****, so he is very unlikely to have bowdlerized the wording of the ballad he quotes; nevertheless, he doesn't explain how he figured the date of the ballad as circa 1707.

Another relatively early English instance of quim—and the next one chronologically in Google Search results—may or may not be intended in the relevant sense. From greyhound races reported at Smee for November 12, in The Sporting Magazine: Or, Monthly Calendar (December 1795):

Mr. Hamond's (Mendham) Quim won ag[ain]st Mr. Holt's (Russel) Bacchus, 1 gui[nea].

People name their dogs (and horses) after various odd things, and The Sporting Magazine evidently didn't pursue the question of how Mr. Hemond's greyhound came by its name, so this instance seems scarcely worth mentioning, except for the extreme rareness of any mention of quim in English sources before 1800. The next Google Books match is to the Lexicon Balatronicum of 1811, which brings us full circle.


Conclusions

Because the slang term quim seems to have been considered extremely vulgar, it has left a very elusive trail in the historical record. An untraced sighting in a 1613 play (in the form queme) is the oldest claimed instance that I've encountered. And a double occurrence in a ballad dated to circa 1707 is the first confirmed instance of quim itself. But slang dictionaries report on quim starting in 1811, without adding significantly to the database of actual occurrences of the term. In Google Books search results, this state of affairs continues until roughly 1888, when the anonymously authored My Secret Life (which uses the term frequently) appears.

As for where the term came from, the Whip Club member in 1811 suggested the Spanish word quemar, to burn. Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, fifth edition (1961), nominates the Celtic cwm ("a cleft, a valley"). And there is of course the archaic English and Scottish English adjective quim (or queme or queem), which can mean pleasing, satisfying, gratifying, or the like.

Ultimately we're dealing with a slang word that may go back more than 400 years and appears to have been widely known near the beginning of eighteenth century—and certainly by the end of it—and yet has left few traces in the written record between 1600 and 1811. Under the circumstances, "origin unknown" seems a suitable (though regrettable) etymological conclusion to reach.

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@JEL: Thank you for the OED update. It's interesting that Farmer was half a century off on his approximate dating of the same ballad—but I suppose that single-sheet ballads were usually published without publication dates in those piratical days. – Sven Yargs Jan 19 at 8:42
    
@JEL: I should have added to my answer the exact date that the OED update you cited gave for the "Harlot Un-mask'd" ballad, instead of assuming that your comment would remain in place indefinitely. Was it 1655? Thanks! – Sven Yargs Jan 21 at 17:41

I have no scholarly backup or bona fides for this, but in Chaucer, the Wife of Bath uses the term "quoniam" as slang for her sexual organ, and other sources also confirm that "quoniam" was Middle English slang related, in origin, to the word "cunt." So I'm speculating, but it seems conceivable that "quoniam" got shortened at some point to "quim."

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My understanding is that the word quim shares roots with words such as cwm (Welsh for 'valley'), and cwen; woman, wife, queen, and even cunt. The most detailed online exploration of the etymology of these words used to be a page by a guy called Matthew Hunt called Towards an Etymology of Cunt, which appears to have been superseded by the page Cunt: The Cultural History Of The C-Word in which we read delights such as this:

The 'cw' prefix can be traced back to the Indo-European 'gwen', which also influenced the Greek 'gune' and 'gunaikos', the Sumerian 'gagu', and the feminine/vaginal prefix 'gyn'.

It's quite possible that the editors of the OED simply found these words rather difficult to work with, and so left out the detailed accounts which Matthew Hunt provides (http://www.matthewhunt.com/cunt/). I doubt you'll find a more comprehensive account of the etymology of quim or cunt anywhere else on the internet, and possibly in print. Hope this helps!

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It may be comprehensive, but nearly everything he writes about historical developments and forms in various languages (living and dead) is complete hogwash. He very obviously doesn't know the first thing about how languages or etymology works. I would implore anyone who goes to read the page to totally ignore everything he says about origin and historical developments of language. It's nonsense of the worst kind. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 20 '15 at 23:44
    
Obviously a pseudonym (Mike Hunt)... and I see no reason to think the main content is any more serious or accurate. – sumelic Nov 14 '15 at 10:10
    
The OED says: A derivation from Welsh cwm valley has sometimes been suggested, but is unlikely on both semantic and phonological grounds. – Hugo Jan 17 at 10:33

Jaffna Tamil Dictionary, printed by American Mission Press in 1842 where Pandits Sandrasegaram and Saravanamuthupillai has recorded the Tamil word Kuiyam meaning vulva or vagina. This word may have been in use prior to 1842 and may be the root for the word Kuim phonetically having a closer relationship compared to related words in other languages.More over, the word cunt too might have connections with the Tamil word Kundi meaning the bottom of a person.This word is still in use.During birth of a child we say that the child comes through the Kundi (cunt or vagina are not in use). It is time for etymologists to read Tamil Dictionaries which will provide ample roots for many words which are classified as, origin unknown, uncertain origin, etc.

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Dictionary.com traces quim to 1613 and explicitly states that her origin is 'unknown'.

The Oxford English Dictionary, rather than not giving an origin, likewise states that the origin of quim is 'unknown'.

Whereas Wiktionary gives a theory for the origin of quim, that she comes from Middle English queme and quemen (sounds like women—perhaps the earliest invention of cockney rhyming slang?), that theory is unsubstantiated. Wiktionary then goes on to say that quim's origin is 'unknown'.

The long and the short of it is, whilst we may not know whence the old quim comes, we're all ever so gladdened by her coming, for knowing quim is our utmost and divinest pleasure.

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