What It Means
: lacking courage : cowardly
lily-livered in Context
"The deus ex machina aspect of Mando's comrades popping up to save him and Baby Yoda from certain death once he proved he wasn't a lily-livered Empire flunky kind of irked me, but I often have that complaint with sci-fi and superhero stories, both of which are prone to ending battles with an out-of-nowhere assist." — Katie Rife, The A.V. Club, 22 Nov. 2019
"I did see more salads than should be allowed in a place like this—something the tentacle-bearded sea captain would surely dismiss as lily-livered landlubber food. And when you're deep inside the belly of Helmsman Ale House, marvelling at the … original arched, wood-beam ceilings that make you feel as if you've been swallowed by the hull of an ancient schooner, salad seems a silly thing to eat, especially while you're chugging a pint." — Edwin Goei, OC Weekly (Costa Mesa, California), 25 Sept. 2019
Did You Know?
The basis of the word lily-livered lies in an old belief. Years ago, people thought that health and temperament were the products of a balance or imbalance of four bodily fluids, or humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. It was believed that a deficiency of yellow bile, or choler, the humor that governed anger, spirit, and courage, would leave a person's liver colorless or white. Someone with this deficiency, and so white-livered, would be spiritless and a coward. Lily-livered and white-livered have been used synonymously since the 17th century, but lily-livered is now the more common expression, probably because of its alliteration.
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