1 of 2


pol·​troon päl-ˈtrün How to pronounce poltroon (audio)
: a spiritless coward : craven


2 of 2


: characterized by complete cowardice

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
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, 15 Jan. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'poltroon.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



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

First Known Use


circa 1529, in the meaning defined above


1645, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of poltroon was circa 1529


Dictionary Entries Near poltroon

Cite this Entry

“Poltroon.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poltroon. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


: coward

More from Merriam-Webster on poltroon

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!