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Ignoble fear in the face of danger or pain.

[Middle English cowardise, from Old French couardise, alteration of couardie, from couard, coward; see coward.]


lack of courage in facing danger, pain, or difficulty


(ˈkaʊ ər dɪs)

lack of courage or fortitude.
[1250–1300; Middle English < Old French co(u)ardise <co(u)art cowardly (see coward)]


See also behavior; fear

the state or quality of being without a backbone, hence, metaphorically, spinelessness; lack of strength of character.
cowardice; cowardly behavior. — poltroon, n. — poltroonish, adj.
a cowardly, irresolute, or fainthearted condition. — pusillanimous, adj.
cowardice, treason, or disloyalty. — recreant, n., adj.


 of curs-Bk. of St. Albans, 1486.



cold feet A feeling of fear or uncertainty; a loss of confidence or nerve; cowardice; usually to get or have cold feet. This expression, in popular use since at least 1893, is said to have come from Ben Jonson’s play Volpone, produced in London in 1605.

lily-livered Cowardly, pusillanimous, craven. This expression is a variation of white livered, lily ‘pure white’ serving to emphasize the color. According to ancient Roman and Greek custom, an animal was sacrificed before each major battle. If the animal’s liver was red and healthy-looking, it was considered a good omen; if the liver was pale or white, it portended defeat. This tradition was based on the belief that the liver was the seat of love and virile passions such as bravery and courage. It was further believed that the liver of a poltroon contained no blood, either through a prenatal fluke of nature or more often as the result of a cowardly act.

For Andrew, if he were opened, and you find so much blood in his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I’II eat the rest of the anatomy. (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night III, ii)

show the white feather To act in a cowardly, craven, dastardly fashion; to lack courage; to be fearful in the face of danger. This expression alludes to the gamecocks used in the sport of cock-fighting. A purebred gamecock has only red and black feathers, while a crossbreed, usually a poor fighter in the pit, often has white feathers in its tail. Though these white feathers are usually covered by the colored ones, when one of these inferior hybrids knows its defeat is imminent, its tail droops, clearly showing the white feathers.

No one will defend him who shows the white feather. (Sir Walter Scott, Journal, 1829)

turn turtle See VULNERABILITY.

weak sister A person (male or female) who is unreliable or timorous, especially during emergencies; a group member whose support cannot be counted on under pressure or in a crisis.

There is always a weak sister who turns yellow or overplays his game through nervousness. (Saturday Evening Post, October, 1925)

yellow belly A coward, a craven. Yellow has been a common American colloquialism for ‘cowardly’ since the mid-19th century. Yellow-bellied followed, a coinage perhaps due to the initial rhyming sounds. Both are still more frequently heard than the noun yellow belly. Reasons for the long association of the color yellow with cowardliness are unknown; they may simply lie in its connotations of sickliness and consequent lack of force and vigor.

ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.cowardice - the trait of lacking courage
spirit - a fundamental emotional and activating principle determining one's character
cravenness - meanspirited cowardice
fearfulness - the trait of being afraid
dastardliness - despicable cowardice
braveness, bravery, courage, courageousness - a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger or pain without showing fear


noun faint-heartedness, weakness, softness, fearfulness, pusillanimity, spinelessness, timorousness He openly accused his opponents of cowardice.
"To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice" [Confucius Analects]
"`I cannot do this. This is too much for me. I shall ruin myself if I take this risk. I cannot take the leap, it's impossible. All of me will be gone if I do this, and I cling to myself'" [J.N.Figgis]




[ˈkaʊədɪs] cowardliness [ˈkaʊədlɪnɪs] Ncobardía f


[ˈkaʊərdɪs] nlâcheté f


, cowardliness
nFeigheit f


[ˈkaʊədɪs] cowardliness [ˈkaʊədlɪnɪs] nvigliaccheria


(ˈkauəd) noun
a person who shows fear easily or is easily frightened. I am such a coward – I hate going to the dentist.
ˈcowardly adjective
ˈcowardice (-dis) noun
ˈcowardliness noun
References in classic literature ?
Perhaps it was cowardice that kept me away so long.
The Democrats take the offices, as a general rule, because they need them, and because the practice of many years has made it the law of political warfare, which unless a different system be proclaimed, it was weakness and cowardice to murmur at.
Then everybody despises him for his cowardice and wants him punished and made ridiculous; so they hough him from behind, and it is the funniest thing in the world to see him hobbling around on his severed legs; the whole vast house goes into hurricanes of laughter over it; I have laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks to see it.
My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.
It is only your guest, sir,' I called out, desirous to spare him the humiliation of exposing his cowardice further.
He took counsel of his inborn cowardice and his inborn cunning, and proposed a solution of the difficulty discovered by himself.
Wopsle with red worsted legs under a highly magnified phosphoric countenance and a shock of red curtain-fringe for his hair, engaged in the manufacture of thunderbolts in a mine, and displaying great cowardice when his gigantic master came home (very hoarse) to dinner.
His natural irresolution and moral cowardice were exaggerated by a position in which dreaded consequences seemed to press equally on all sides, and his irritation had no sooner provoked him to defy Dunstan and anticipate all possible betrayals, than the miseries he must bring on himself by such a step seemed more unendurable to him than the present evil.
But I will be avenged,'' he added, starting from his char in impatience at the supposed injury, and catching hold of his boar-spear; ``I will go with my complaint to the great council; I have friends, I have followers man to man will I appeal the Norman to the lists; let him come in his plate and his mail, and all that can render cowardice bold; I have sent such a javelin as this through a stronger fence than three of their war shields
They say cowardice is infectious; but then argument is, on the other hand, a great emboldener; and so when each had said his say, my mother made them a speech.
I could plainly discover whence one family derives a long chin; why a second has abounded with knaves for two generations, and fools for two more; why a third happened to be crack-brained, and a fourth to be sharpers; whence it came, what Polydore Virgil says of a certain great house, NEC VIR FORTIS, NEC FOEMINA CASTA; how cruelty, falsehood, and cowardice, grew to be characteristics by which certain families are distinguished as much as by their coats of arms; who first brought the pox into a noble house, which has lineally descended scrofulous tumours to their posterity.
It was not conscience that made me do so: it was a sort of cowardice.