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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.
1. brave.
Synonym Study
1.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. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for cowardly
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I think it cowardly of you to say that I am to be held responsible.

  • Its first war-cry was stifled back by the brutal and cowardly hand of Destiny.

    My Double Life Sarah Bernhardt
  • His cowardly rages made them dread a shot in the back or poison in their coffee.

    White Fang Jack London
  • Beauty Smith regained his feet and came toward him, sniffling and cowardly.

    White Fang Jack London
  • He was as cowardly and wicked as Richard was brave and generous.

    Introductory American History Henry Eldridge Bourne
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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