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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
  • It had stopped, the cowardly shooters looking for their quarry in the bushes below.
  • Too bad the government is too cowardly to prosecute the guilty millionaires, clerics and corporations.
  • Even now as it is coming out that he may have expired due to a seizure, they are too cowardly to connect the dots.
  • What a cowardly belief to wager gods existence and your own eternal salvation based upon mathematical reasoning.
  • Getting a doctorate was the easy, rather cowardly way out for me, and that's the truth.
  • Your cowardly anonymity blights your comment further.
  • In other words, anonymity is more calming and less risky-or even more cowardly-than named criticism.
  • Being immoral and cowardly does not mean one cannot be a great philosopher.
  • So it may certainly be rational, rather than cowardly to choose to not interview.
  • It is anonymous political aids and writers, who now cowardly refuse to own their words.
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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