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"Coward" redirects here. For other meanings including as a surname, see Coward (disambiguation).

Cowardice is a trait wherein fear and excess self-concern override doing or saying what is right, good and of help to others or oneself in a time of need—it is the opposite of courage. As a label, "cowardice" indicates a failure of character in the face of a challenge.[1]

Under many military codes of justice, cowardice in combat is a crime punishable by death (e.g. shot at dawn).

As a retraction of a virtue that may be or have been required in many cultures, it is often considered to be a character flaw which may be variously stigmatized or punished.


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word coward came into English from the Old French word coart (modern French couard), a combination of the word for "tail" (Modern French queue, Latin cauda) and an agent noun suffix. It would therefore have meant "one with a tail" — perhaps from the habit of animals displaying their tails in flight ("turning tail"), or from a dog's habit of putting its tail between its legs when it is afraid or cowed.[citation needed] Like many other English words of French origin, this word was introduced in the English language by the French-speaking Normans, after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.[2]

The English surname Coward (as in Noël Coward), however, has the same origin and meaning as the word "cowherd".

Military law[edit]

Acts of cowardice have long been punishable by military law, which defines a wide range of cowardly offenses including desertion in face of the enemy and surrendering to the enemy against orders. The punishment for such acts is typically severe, ranging from corporal punishment to the death sentence. Cowardly conduct is specifically mentioned within the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "[the] lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc." :
  2. ^

External links[edit]

  • Quotations related to Cowardice at Wikiquote
  • The dictionary definition of cowardice at Wiktionary