Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Aug 10 16:10:46 UTC 2012

On Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 11:59 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> I don't find any discussion in the Archives.
> OED def.:
> "A reproachful designation for one who displays ignoble fear or want of
> courage in the face of danger, pain, or difficulty; an ignobly
> faint-hearted or pusillanimous person."
> Another element, even a new sense, needs to be added: "one who commits
> extraordinary treachery or violence against  defenseless persons."
> I certainly noticed this meaning on 9/11, when the terrorists were roundly
> denounced as "cowards," even though their treacherous acts clearly
> required resolve and disdain for danger.
> The recent mass killers are also automatically described as "cowards,"
> even though "want of courage" or "faint-heartedness" had nothing to do
> with their actions. Indeed, the issue of "courage" vs. "faint-heartedness" in
> these cases is arguably irrelevant.

In 2002, Bill Maher famously lost his job hosting ABC's "Politically
Incorrect" after questioning whether the 9/11 terrorists were

Panelist Dinesh D'Souza mentioned that he didn't think the terrorists
were "cowards," as George Bush had described them. Maher replied: "We
have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles
away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the
building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly. You're right."


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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