Borrowed from Old French coart, cuard ( > French couard), from coe (“tail”) + -ard (pejorative agent noun suffix); [Term?] (“coe”) is in turn from Latin cauda. The reference seems to be to an animal “turning tail”, or having its tail between its legs, especially a dog. Unrelated to cower.
coward (plural cowards)
- A person who lacks courage.
c. 1599, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Ivlivs Cæsar”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies, London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, Act II, scene ii, page 117, column 1:
- Cowards dye many times before their deaths, / The valiant neuer taſte of death but once: […]
- 1856: Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Part II Chapter IV, translated by Eleanor Marx-Aveling
- He tortured himself to find out how he could make his declaration to her, and always halting between the fear of displeasing her and the shame of being such a coward, he wept with discouragement and desire. Then he took energetic resolutions, wrote letters that he tore up, put it off to times that he again deferred.
1603, John Florio, transl.; Michel de Montaigne, Essayes, printed at London: Edward Blount, OCLC 946730821:, II.17:
- It is a coward and servile humour, for a man to disguise and hide himselfe under a maske, and not dare to shew himselfe as he is.
- c. 1605, William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act II, Scene 4,
- He rais’d the house with loud and coward cries.
- 1709, Matthew Prior, “Celia to Damon” in Poems on Several Occasions, London: Jacob Tonson, 2nd edition, p. 89,
- Invading Fears repel my Coward Joy;
- And Ills foreseen the pleasant Bliss destroy.
- (heraldry, of a lion) Borne in the escutcheon with his tail doubled between his legs.