Cowardice is the perceived failure to demonstrate sufficient mental robustness and courage in the face of a challenge. Under many military codes of justice, cowardice in the face of combat is a crime punishable by death (cf. shot at dawn). The term describes a personality trait which is viewed as a negative characteristic and has been shunned and disdained (see norms) within most, if not all cultures, while courage, typically viewed as its direct opposite, is generally rewarded and encouraged. Persons who demonstrate cowardice are called cowards, and are usually seen to have avoided or refused to engage in a confrontation or struggle which has been deemed good or righteous by the wider culture in which they live. On a more mundane level, the label may be applied to those who are regarded as too frightened or overwhelmed to defend their rights or those of others from aggressors in their lives.
- To defend oneself by alliance is proof of cowardice.
- COWARD, n. One who in a perilous emergency thinks with his legs.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
- All doubt is cowardice — all trust is brave.
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton, King Arthur (1848-9), Book XII, Chapter XXVIII.
- Folly such as yours,
Grac'd with a sword, and worthier of a fan,
Has made what enemies could ne'er have done.
Our arch of empire, stedfast but for you,
A mutilated structure, soon to fall.
- William Cowper, The Task (1785), Book I, line 770
- Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible...
- Cowards are cruel, but the brave
Love mercy, and delight to save.
- John Gay, Fables (1727), Part I. Fable 1.
- Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance, nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.
- Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe or politic, nor popular but take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.
- There's no way I'll back down, like a goddamn coward. I can't, how would I look? As a man bowing to his knees?
- Who knows himself a braggart,
Let him fear this, for it will come to pass
That every braggart shall be found an ass.
- You souls of geese,
That bear the shapes of men, how have you run
From slaves that apes would beat!
- What a slave art thou, to hack thy sword as thou hast done, and then say it was in fight!
- I may speak it to my shame,
I have a truant been to chivalry.
- I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.
- So bees with smoke and doves with noisome stench
Are from their hives and houses driven away.
They call'd us for our fierceness English dogs;
Now like to whelps, we crying run away.
- Becomes it thee to taunt his valiant age
And twit with cowardice a man half dead?
- So cowards fight when they can fly no further;
As doves do peck the falcon's piercing talons;
So desperate thieves, all hopeless of their lives,
Breathe out invectives 'gainst the officers.
- I hold it cowardice
To rest mistrustful where a noble heart
Hath pawn'd an open hand in sign of love.
- Thou slave, thou wretch, thou coward!
Thou little valiant, great in villany!
Thou ever strong upon the stronger side!
Thou Fortune's champion, that dost never fight
But when her humorous ladyship is by
To teach thee safety!
- Dost thou now fall over to my foes?
Thou wear a lion's hide! doff it for shame,
And hang a calf's skin on those recreant limbs.
- Milk-liver'd man!
That bear'st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs,
Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning
Thine honor from thy suffering.
- Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting "I dare not" wait upon, "I would";
Like the poor cat i' the adage?
- How many cowards, whose hearts are all as false
As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins
The beards of Hercules and frowning Mars,
Who, inward search'd, have livers white as milk.
- That which in mean men we entitle patience
Is pale cold cowardice in noble breasts.
- By this good light, this is a very shallow monster!—I afear'd of him!—A very weak monster!—The man i' the moon!—A most poor, credulous monster!—Well drawn, monster, in good sooth!
- A coward, a most devout coward, religious in it.
- Ignavissimus quisque, et ut res docuit, in periculo non ausurus, nimis verbis et lingua feroces.
- Every recreant who proved his timidity in the hour of danger, was afterwards boldest in words and tongue.
- Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), IV. 62.
- “Show yourselves,” cried Stephon. “Only cowards hide in the dark.”
“Cowards do many things,” said the voice. “Cowards kill their Commanders and make it look like a bandit attack. Cowards plot in secret. Cowards breed insurrection. Cowards plan the abuse of women.”
- Sheri S. Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country (1988), Chapter 34
- To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox, "Protest", Poems of Problems (1914), pp. 154–55.
Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations
- Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 145-46.
- To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.
- Confucius, Analects, Book II, Chapter XXIV.
- That all men would be cowards if they dare,
Some men we know have courage to declare.
- George Crabbe, Tale I, The Dumb Orators, line 11.
- The coward never on himself relies,
But to an equal for assistance flies.
- George Crabbe, Tale III, The Gentleman Farmer, line 84.
- Der Feige droht nur, wo er sicher ist.
- The coward only threatens when he is safe.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Torquato Tasso, II. 3. 207.
- When desp'rate ills demand a speedy cure,
Distrust is cowardice, and prudence folly.
- Samuel Johnson, Irene, Act IV, scene 1.
That kills himself to avoid misery, fears it,
And, at the best, shows but a bastard valour.
This life's a fort committed to my trust,
Which I must not yield up, till it be forced:
Nor will I. He's not valiant that dares die,
But he that boldly bears calamity.
- Philip Massinger, Maid of Honour, Act IV, scene 3.
- Men lie, who lack courage to tell truth—the cowards!
- Joaquin Miller, Ina, scene 3.
- Timidi est optare necem.
- To wish for death is a coward's part.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV. 115.
- Virtutis expers verbis jactans gloriam
Ignotos fallit, notis est derisui.
- A coward boasting of his courage may deceive strangers, but he is a laughing-stock to those who know him.
- Phaedrus, Fables, I. 11. 1.
- Vous semblez les anguilles de Melun; vous criez devant qu'on vous escorche.
- You are like the eels of Melun; you cry out before you are skinned.
- François Rabelais, Gargantua.
- Canis timidus vehementius latrat quam mordet.
- A cowardly cur barks more fiercely than it bites.
- Quintus Curtius Rufus, De Rebus Gestis Alexandri Magni, VII, 4, 13.
- When all the blandishments of life are gone,
The coward sneaks to death, the brave live on.
- Dr. Sewell, The Suicide.
- Timidus se vocat cautum, parcum sordidus.
- The coward calls himself cautious, the miser thrifty.
- Syrus, Maxims.
- The man that lays his hand on woman,
Save in the way of kindness, is a wretch
Whom 'twere gross flattery to name a coward.
- John Tobin, The Honeymoon, Act II, scene 1.
- Adieu, canaux, canards, canaille.
- Voltaire, summing up his Impressions de Voyage, on his return from the Netherlands.