Let's Bring Back 'Poltroon' and Give Cowards a New Name

Updated April 12, 2022
A scared-looking pit bull dog looking out
    A scared-looking pit bull dog looking out
    Photograph by Devon OpdenDries / Moment / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Cowboys really knew how to hurt each other’s feelings. They had so many great ways to call each other a coward — many of which involved their livers, their spines or their mothers — that it may seem like we just can’t compete in the 21st century. Luckily, we don’t have to: We have the word poltroon.

You Yellow-Bellied Poltroon

The word poltroon, meaning “total coward,” comes from the Old Italian poltro (meaning “couch”) and poltrone (meaning “sluggard”). Imagine the scarediest cat you know huddled on their couch, and you’ve got yourself a poltroon.

Unlike the people it describes, poltroon is a helpful word. It functions as a noun when it’s a mean name to call someone or as a description of one’s general cowardice (“Curse your poltroonery” or “That was an unbelievable act of poltroonery”). Want to use it as an adjective? Go with poltroonish (“I can’t stand your poltroonish attitude”) and it will never leave your vocabulary.


21st-Century Examples of Spineless Poltroonery

What makes someone a true poltroon? If they’re doing any of these in their daily lives, feel free to throw the P-word at them

  • They don’t text you after a great date because they’re afraid to tell you that they’re already seeing someone else.
  • A manager doesn’t stand up for an employee after a customer cusses them out and refuses to pay for their Chalupa.
  • Your friend doesn’t stick up for you when your other friends are talking behind your back.
  • A ref doesn’t make the right call because he doesn’t want to upset a team’s vocal fanbase.
  • The person you like never asks you out because they’re convinced you’ll say no (you won’t!).
  • Your boss doesn’t know how to settle the argument between you and a bullying colleague, so they just demote you both.
  • A politician backs off of a controversial (but socially beneficial) stance because of troubling poll numbers.

Don’t Be Afraid to Bring Poltroon Back

If you know someone who fits the description, consider bringing poltroon back by:

  • casually introducing it into your group text (“omg Mike is such a poltroon lol”)
  • creating an abbreviation for it and posting it in comments on very popular social media accounts (“Can’t believe you didn’t win the Grammy, they’re all a bunch of PTs”)
  • talk about a cowardly person or character, but use the word poltroon instead (“I love The Wizard of Oz too! My favorite character is the Poltroonish Lion”)
  • add it to a strongly worded letter of complaint to a company you don’t like (“And in conclusion, I must address the utter poltroonery taking place in your stores these days”)

Other Amazing Words for Optimal Peer Pressure

Love the idea of calling people names but aren’t sold on poltroon? Don’t worry — there are lots of ways to insult someone’s bravery (or lack thereof) with vocabulary. Try out:

  • bootless
  • craven
  • milksop
  • pusillanimous
  • recreant
  • yellowbelly
  • varlet

Don’t Be a Language Poltroon

Once you’ve brought back poltroon, the rest of your vocabulary will need a lift as well. Add these words to your everyday conversation: