1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Coward

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COWARD, a term of contempt for one who, before danger, pain or trouble, shows fear, whether physical or moral. The derivation of the word has been obscured by a connexion in sense with the verb “cow,” to instil fear into, which is derived from old Norse kuga, a word of similar meaning, and with the verb “cower,” to crouch, which is also Scandinavian in origin.[1] The true derivation is from the French coe, an old form of queue, a tail, from Lat. cauda, hence couart or couard. The reference to “tail” is either to the expression “turn tail” in flight, or to the habit of animals dropping the tail between the legs when frightened; in heraldry, a lion in this position is a “lion coward.” In the fable of Reynard the Fox the name of the hare is Coart, Kywart, Cuwaert or other variants.

  1. A connexion has also been imagined with cow (O. Eng. cu; common in Scandinavian languages, and of similar root to Skr. go, whence also Gr. βοῦς, Lat. bos), the female bovine animal, on account of its timidity.