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Tail of woe.

Dear Editor:

Does the word coward have anything to do with cows?

E. M.

Slidell, Louisiana

Though it certainly seems plausible that cow and coward would have a common ancestor, in fact they come from different sources. Cow dates all the way back to before the 12th century and has its origins in an Old English word for the bovine. Coward, on the other hand, traces back to the French word for one part of an animal: its tail.

A frightened animal may draw its tail between its legs, or it may turn tail and run. If the fleeing animal has a white tail, the flash of white can leave a keen impression. But fear can be found in humans as well as animals, and armies have their tail ends also. A traditional belief holds that cowards are most likely found lurking in the tail end of an advancing army. Although it is not known whether the reference was to the tail of an army or an animal, it is certain that the Old French word cuart or coart, the source of our word coward, comes from coe or coue, meaning "tail."

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Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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