: a spiritless coward : craven
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.
"I am a poltroon on certain points; I feel it. There is a base alloy of moral cowardice in my composition." — Charlotte Brontë, Shirley, 1849
"There's a theory that even though voters insist they hate the negative commercials portraying a candidate's opponent as a sleazy, bribe-taking, bootlicking poltroon, the ads persist because they work." — Daniel Ruth, The Tampa Bay Times, 31 Aug. 2014
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Word Family Quiz
What is the meaning of catchpole (a word derived from an Anglo-French word meaning "chicken chaser")?VIEW THE ANSWER
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