pu·​sil·​lan·​i·​mous | \ ˌpyü-sə-ˈla-nə-məs How to pronounce pusillanimous (audio) also ˌpyü-zə- \

Definition of pusillanimous

: lacking courage and resolution : marked by contemptible timidity

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Other Words from pusillanimous

pusillanimously adverb

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

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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.

Examples of pusillanimous in a Sentence

pusillanimous politicians who vote according to whichever way the political wind is blowing
Recent Examples on the Web Goldwater’s presidential run gave voice to those who yearned for a real conservative, rejecting Dwight Eisenhower as a pusillanimous moderate. Patrick Iber, The New Republic, 11 Aug. 2020 American politicians, the pusillanimous and the mountebanks and even their opposites, used to be as highfalutin as Foghorn Leghorn with their gibes, which made politics fun for fans of Shakespeare, the Bible or obscure history. oregonlive, 31 Mar. 2020 The pusillanimous, corporate-speak testimony of several corporate executives is quoted at length — perhaps at too great a length. Douglas Preston, New York Times, 1 May 2018 Her predicament parallels Attila’s growing sense that much of his own work is pusillanimous and dangerously indulgent. Melanie Finn, New York Times, 20 Apr. 2018

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

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First Known Use of pusillanimous

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pusillanimous

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

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

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Cite this Entry

“Pusillanimous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pusillanimous. Accessed 20 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for pusillanimous



English Language Learners Definition of pusillanimous

: weak and afraid of danger : cowardly


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