Lily-livered or hard as nails: talking about people you don’t like (2)

Two adorable border collie puppies sit in front of a veterinarian as one playfully growls at the other causing the other puppy to look scared.

by Liz Walter

My last post contained general insulting words and phrases. You can find words and phrases for people who are stupid, untrustworthy, boring or stubborn in previous posts by me and my colleague Kate Woodford, so today’s post looks at ways of describing some other character flaws.

I’ll start with people who are cowardly (not brave). More informal words for a coward include chicken or wimp.  Stronger, idiomatic adjectives include lily-livered and yellow-bellied:

Breaking up with someone by text is really cowardly.

I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to swimming in the sea.

The president surrounds himself with lily-livered yes-men.

If someone is afraid of his/her own shadow, they are generally very nervous, and if they are suddenly too nervous to speak or move, we might describe them as like a deer/rabbit caught in the headlights:

Clara would be useless in the army – she’s afraid of her own shadow.

If you ask him a question, he just stands there like a rabbit in the headlights.

On the other hand, someone who is hard, or more emphatically hard as nails or hard-boiled appears to have no fear and usually no empathy either:

He grew up in the Bronx and he’s hard as nails.

This killing shocked even the most hard-boiled officers.

Nobody likes a person who spoils their fun, so it’s not surprising that we have a great range of words for such people, including spoilsport, party pooper, killjoy and wet blanket. With nice understatement, we can also say that someone is not (exactly) a barrel of laughs:

Come and dance with me – don’t be a party pooper!

Wow, Christie’s new boyfriend isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, is he?

I will finish today’s post with a selection of words for people who are cold and unfriendly. We use the idiom a cold fish for people who are unfriendly and don’t show their emotions. Someone who is standoffish or unapproachable acts in a formal and unfriendly way, while remote or aloof people also act rather formally and do not join in with things that are going on:

She didn’t react at all when she saw me crying – she’s such a cold fish.

His colleagues found him a bit standoffish.

She had an aloof air which people found unpleasant.

Look out for one more post in this series, on words to describe people who are rude, bad-tempered, bossy or cruel.

5 thoughts on “Lily-livered or hard as nails: talking about people you don’t like (2)

  1. amossoise

    Thanks a lot for these words. English is not my mother tongue. And I am glad to learn some insulting words and phrases. It is always necessary to know some of them. Cecile from Canada

  2. R Jensen

    Growing up in the Bronx automatically makes you hard-as-nails?
    You’re such a regionist!
    Locationist? Precinctist? Boroughist? Place-ist? Spotist? :o)

  3. Buffalo

    Y’all’s definition and usage of the word “funk” is inadequately informed. There are several definitions of the word and ebonically endowed linguists contributed the most effectively up-dated, so far…

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