Listen to the author reading this blog post:
by Liz Walter
My last post was on the topic of bravery, so by way of a contrast, this one looks at words and phrases connected with the opposite. The most common word for someone who isn’t brave is coward. The related adjective is cowardly (one of those rare adjectives that ends in -ly) and the noun is cowardice:
Only a coward would end a relationship by text.
He was too cowardly to criticize his boss.
Their failure to deal with the issue was political cowardice.
She was a timid woman, completely unsuited to being a journalist.
Our trips to the Himalayas aren’t for the fainthearted.
Stop being so spineless and make them leave!
The book was withdrawn by her pusillanimous publisher.
If someone is generally shy or scared to do things, we might say that they are afraid of their own shadow. The word ‘afraid’ can be replaced by synonyms such as scared or frightened in this phrase. Similarly, Americans say that someone is afraid to say boo, while British people say that they wouldn’t say boo to a goose:
That child needs to toughen up – she’s afraid of her own shadow.
Even my aunt, who normally wouldn’t say boo to a goose, started shouting at him.
I saw that he had a gun and started to tremble.
We walked into the cave, quaking with fear.
She was shaking like a leaf before she went on stage.
There are lots of insults for people we think are being cowards. For example, we might accuse them of being a wimp or a chicken. We also use the verbs wimp out and chicken out when we disapprove of someone failing to do something because they were scared:
Come on, you chicken, jump!
Dad wimped out of the abseiling.
Scaredy-cat is a more childish or humorous insult, while we might call someone a baby if we think their fear is childish. More colourfully, in British, but not American English, we sometimes use the humorous insult a big/great girl’s blouse:
She’s such a scaredy-cat – she won’t even go on the ferris wheel.
Stop being such a baby. The dogs won’t hurt you.
Get up that ladder, you big girl’s blouse!
Are cats and chickens considered cowardly in your language too?