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[kou-erd-lee] /ˈkaʊ ərd li/
lacking courage; contemptibly timid.
characteristic of or befitting a coward; despicably mean, covert, or unprincipled:
a cowardly attack on a weak, defenseless man.
like a coward.
Origin of cowardly
1275-1325; Middle English (adv.); see coward, -ly
Related forms
cowardliness, noun
1. craven, poltroon, dastardly, pusillanimous, fainthearted, white-livered, lily-livered, chicken-hearted, fearful, afraid, scared. Cowardly, timid, timorous refer to a lack of courage or self-confidence. Cowardly means weakly or basely fearful in the presence of danger: The cowardly wretch deserted his comrades in battle. Timid means lacking in boldness or self-confidence even when there is no danger present: a timid person who stood in the way of his own advancement. Timorous suggests a timidity based on an exaggeration of dangers or on an imaginary creation of dangers: timorous as a mouse.
1. brave. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for cowardly
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Props are rotten and cowardly, whether they are props of love or not.

    Captivity M. Leonora Eyles
  • His cowardly rages made them dread a shot in the back or poison in their coffee.

    White Fang Jack London
  • He had engaged himself to her so much that, simply to ignore her would be cowardly as well as false.

    John Caldigate Anthony Trollope
  • Beauty Smith regained his feet and came toward him, sniffling and cowardly.

    White Fang Jack London
  • These men are brave and strong, and it is only the cowardly and weak who would inflict on you one single unnecessary pain.

    The Petticoat Commando Johanna Brandt
British Dictionary definitions for cowardly


of or characteristic of a coward; lacking courage
Derived Forms
cowardliness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cowardly

1550s, from coward + -ly (1). The adverb (late 14c.) is much older than the adjective:

Yit had I levir do what I may Than here to dye thus cowerdelye ["Le Morte d'Arthur," c.1450]
An Old English word for "cowardly" was earg, which also meant "slothful." Related: Cowardliness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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