early 13c., from O.Fr. coart, from coe "tail," from L. coda, dialectal variant of cauda "tail," of uncertain origin + -ard, an agent noun suffix denoting one that carries on some action or possesses some quality, with derogatory connotation (see -ard). The word probably reflects
an animal metaphoric sense still found in expressions like turning tail and tail between legs. Coart was the name of the hare in O.Fr. versions of "Reynard the Fox." As a surname (attested from 1255) it represents O.E. cuhyrde "cow-herd."
"Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination." [Ernest Hemingway, "Men at War," 1942]
An O.E. word for "cowardly" was earg, which also meant "slothful."