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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.]
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


lack of courage in facing danger, pain, or difficulty
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(ˈkaʊ ər dɪs)

lack of courage or fortitude.
[1250–1300; Middle English < Old French co(u)ardise <co(u)art cowardly (see coward)]
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.


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.
-Ologies & -Isms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


 of curs-Bk. of St. Albans, 1486.
Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.



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.

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


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]
Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002


The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


[ˈkaʊədɪs] cowardliness [ˈkaʊədlɪnɪs] Ncobardía f
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005


[ˈkaʊərdɪs] nlâcheté f
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


, cowardliness
nFeigheit f
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[ˈkaʊədɪs] cowardliness [ˈkaʊədlɪnɪs] nvigliaccheria
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995


(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
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.
References in classic literature ?
Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul.
That the contrary of a good is an evil is shown by induction: the contrary of health is disease, of courage, cowardice, and so on.
I have given you all the attributes which I possess myself, and your courage never fails you except in this one instance." On hearing this the Lion groaned and lamented very much and, reproaching himself with his cowardice, wished that he might die.
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.
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.
It is cowardice that holdeth them fast to their branches.
There it is even now, and if any doubt it let them go thither and there they will find it and know the cowardice of their jeddak."
In all my dealings with the Moors, I have always discovered in them an ill- natured cowardice, which makes them insupportably insolent if you show them the least respect, and easily reduced to reasonable terms when you treat them with a high hand.
During the first period of his service, hard as he tried and much as he reproached himself with cowardice, he had not been able to do this, but with time it had come of itself.
Nicholl could not contain himself at this reply; threw out hints of cowardice; that a man who refused to fire a cannon-shot was pretty near being afraid of it; that artillerists who fight at six miles distance are substituting mathematical formulae for individual courage.
Aristotle, in his Politics, doth them, I believe, more justice, when he says, "The modesty and fortitude of men differ from those virtues in women; for the fortitude which becomes a woman, would be cowardice in a man; and the modesty which becomes a man, would be pertness in a woman." Nor is there, perhaps, more of truth in the opinion of those who derive the partiality which women are inclined to show to the brave, from this excess of their fear.
- Portage at the Falls- Portage by Moonlight.- An Attack, a Route, and a Robbery.- Indian Cure for Cowardice.- A Parley and Compromise.- The Despatch Party Turn Back.- Meet Crooks and John Day.- Their Sufferings.- Indian Perfidy.- Arrival at Astoria.