Fowler (1926) criticized the use of cowardly to describe people and their actions in cases where ‘advantage has [merely] been taken of superior strength or position’, and where a word such as cruel or unchivalrous might be more appropriate. The increase of international terrorism and suicide bombing in the last few decades has tended to bring the word into more frequent use in exactly the way Fowler described, with reference to acts that are reprehensible and brutal, or fanatical, but not cowardly, which implies a lack of courage. But perhaps cowardice in this usage lies in attacking those who are defenceless instead of fighting on equal terms, in which case the extension in meaning is justified.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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  • Cowardly — Cow ard*ly, a. 1. Wanting courage; basely or weakly timid or fearful; pusillanimous; spiritless. [1913 Webster] The cowardly rascals that ran from the battle. Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. Proceeding from fear of danger or other consequences; befitting …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • cowardly — [kou′ərd lē] adj. of or typical of a coward; shamefully fearful adv. in the manner of a coward cowardliness n. SYN. COWARDLY, the general term, suggests a reprehensible lack of courage in the face of danger or pain [a cowardly deserter ]; CRAVEN… …   English World dictionary

  • cowardly — late 14c. (adv.); 1550s (adj.), from COWARD (Cf. coward) + LY (Cf. ly). The adverb is much older than the adjective: Yit had I levir do what I may Than here to dye thus cowerdelye [ Le Morte d Arthur, c.1450] An O.E. word for cowardly was earg,… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Cowardly — Cow ard*ly, adv. In the manner of a coward. Spenser. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • cowardly — index base (bad), ignoble, recreant Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • cowardly — [adj] fearful afraid, anxious, apprehensive, backward, base, caitiff, chickenhearted, cowering, cowhearted, craven, dastardly, diffident, dismayed, fainthearted, frightened, gutless, having the willies*, jittery, lacking courage, lily livered*,… …   New thesaurus

  • cowardly — I. adverb Date: 14th century in a cowardly manner II. adjective Date: 1551 being, resembling, or befitting a coward < a cowardly retreat > • cowardliness noun Synonyms: cowardly, pusillanimous, craven …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • cowardly — cowardliness, n. /kow euhrd lee/, adj. 1. lacking courage; contemptibly timid. 2. characteristic of or befitting a coward; despicably mean, covert, or unprincipled: a cowardly attack on a weak, defenseless man. adv. 3. like a coward. [1275 1325;… …   Universalium

  • cowardly — adj. cowardly to + inf. (it was cowardly of them to behave like that) * * * [ kaʊədlɪ] cowardly to + inf. (it was cowardly of them to behave like that) …   Combinatory dictionary

  • cowardly — cow|ard|ly [ kauərdli ] adjective 1. ) a cowardly person is not brave enough to fight or do something difficult or dangerous that they should do a ) used about someone s behavior: a cowardly decision 2. ) cruel toward someone who is weaker than… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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