pol·​troon | \ päl-ˈtrün How to pronounce poltroon (audio) \

Definition of poltroon

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a spiritless coward : craven



Definition of poltroon (Entry 2 of 2)

: characterized by complete cowardice

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Did You Know?


When you get down to synonyms, a "poltroon" is just a "chicken." Barnyard chickens are fowl that have long been noted for timidity, and the name "chicken" has been applied to human cowards since the 17th century. "Poltroon" has been used for wimps and cravens for even longer, since the early 16th century at least. And if you remember that chickens are dubbed "poultry," you may guess that the birds and the cowards are linked by etymology as well as synonymy. English picked up "poltroon" from Middle French, which in turn got it from Old Italian poltrone, meaning "coward." The Italian term has been traced to the Latin pullus, a root that is also an ancestor of "pullet" (a young hen) and "poultry."

Examples of poltroon in a Sentence

Noun those poltroons in the state legislature who have caved in to bigotry on this important issue of basic civil rights Adjective a military commander who was so poltroon that he surrendered without having fired so much as a single shot
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun And there’s the awkward fact of Giuliani’s having failed, in spite of his most abject scheming, to manage to overturn the presidential election that Donald Trump lost to a wobbly poltroon on the edge of 80. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, "Circling the Drain," 15 Jan. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'poltroon.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of poltroon


circa 1529, in the meaning defined above


1645, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for poltroon


Middle French poultron, from Old Italian poltrone, probably akin to poltro colt, ultimately from Latin pullus young of an animal — more at foal

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The first known use of poltroon was circa 1529

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Last Updated

25 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Poltroon.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poltroon. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for poltroon

Nglish: Translation of poltroon for Spanish Speakers

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