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The first known use of lily-livered was in 1605. From the medieval belief that the liver was the seat of courage, and the pale color of the lily flower. A person who had no blood in their liver would have no courage and would thus be a coward.


lily-livered (comparative more lily-livered, superlative most lily-livered)

  1. (idiomatic) Cowardly, lacking courage.
    • 1606, William Shakespeare, King Lear, act 2, scene 2:
      [] a lily-livered, action-taking knave . . . ; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.
    • 1850, William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis, chapter 61:
      "But as for that lily-livered sneak—that poor lyin' swindlin' cringin' cur of a Clavering—who stands in my shoes—stands in my shoes, hang him!"