pu·​sil·​lan·​i·​mous ˌpyü-sə-ˈla-nə-məs How to pronounce pusillanimous (audio)
 also  ˌpyü-zə-
: lacking courage and resolution : marked by contemptible timidity
pusillanimously adverb

Did you know?

Do you know someone who has a small, weak spirit, someone whose reserve of inner strength is too small to draw from in times of danger and adversity? If so, you'll find pusillanimous to be the perfect descriptor for that person. The Latin roots of this derisive adjective are pusillus, meaning "very small" (and related to pusus, meaning "boy") and animus, which means "spirit" and is the ancestor to many words in our language, including "animal" and "animate." Pusillanimous first appeared in English in the 16th century, but it gained prominence in the 1970s when Vice President Spiro Agnew famously accused his ideological rivals of "pusillanimous pussyfooting." And despite what you may have heard, pusillanimous does not serve as the basis for pussyfoot, pussycat, or a certain related vulgarism.

Choose the Right Synonym for pusillanimous

cowardly, pusillanimous, craven, dastardly mean having or showing a lack of courage.

cowardly implies a weak or ignoble lack of courage.

a cowardly failure to stand up for principle

pusillanimous suggests a contemptible lack of courage.

the pusillanimous fear of a future full of possibility

craven suggests extreme defeatism and complete lack of resistance.

secretly despised her own craven yes-men

dastardly often implies behavior that is both cowardly and treacherous or skulking or outrageous.

a dastardly attack on unarmed civilians

Examples of pusillanimous in a Sentence

pusillanimous politicians who vote according to whichever way the political wind is blowing
Recent Examples on the Web Mark Kelly Americans who are rightfully appalled by the pusillanimous response to anti-Semitism on college campuses have been pulling their donations and calling for restrictions on anti-Israel student groups. Arthur Levitt, WSJ, 12 Nov. 2023 Those clumsy tales revealed Chazelle’s pusillanimous career ambitions. Armond White, National Review, 13 Jan. 2023 This is a remarkably pusillanimous way of framing the case. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 19 Sep. 2022 This book should—but won’t—be read by Joe Biden’s national security team, not to mention the pusillanimous leaders of Germany and France. Steve Forbes, Forbes, 2 Aug. 2022 His pusillanimous and fraudulent conduct must be stopped. Lester Fabian Brathwaite, EW.com, 8 July 2022 Where the president should be direct and full-throated, Biden has been, at best, indirect and pusillanimous. The Editors, National Review, 12 May 2022 Rifkin’s story should rage against the pusillanimous like Roth and the hero of Look Back in Anger. Armond White, National Review, 4 Feb. 2022 The English were led by the exemplary Admiral Edward Vernon — after whom the Washington family home, Mount Vernon, would be named — and the incompetent, pusillanimous General Thomas Wentworth. Washington Post, 10 Nov. 2021

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

Word History


Late Latin pusillanimis, from Latin pusillus very small (diminutive of pusus boy) + animus spirit; perhaps akin to Latin puer child — more at puerile, animate

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pusillanimous was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near pusillanimous

Cite this Entry

“Pusillanimous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pusillanimous. Accessed 25 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


pu·​sil·​lan·​i·​mous ˌpyü-sə-ˈlan-ə-məs How to pronounce pusillanimous (audio)
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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