- coward (n.)
- mid-13c., from Old French coart "coward" (no longer the usual word in French, which has now in this sense poltron, from Italian, and lâche), from coe "tail," from Latin coda, popular dialect variant of cauda "tail," which is of uncertain origin + -ard, an agent noun suffix denoting one that carries on some action or possesses some quality, with derogatory connotation (see -ard).
The word probably reflects an animal metaphoric sense still found in expressions like turning tail and tail between legs. Coart was the name of the hare in Old French versions of "Reynard the Fox." Italian codardo, Spanish cobarde are from French.
The identification of coward & bully has gone so far in the popular consciousness that persons & acts in which no trace of fear is to be found are often called coward(ly) merely because advantage has been taken of superior strength or position .... [Fowler]
As a surname (attested from 1255) it represents Old English cuhyrde "cow-herd." Farmer has coward's castle "a pulpit," "Because a clergyman may deliver himself therefrom without fear of contradiction or argument."
- cowardice (n.)
- c. 1300, from Old French coardise (13c.), from coard, coart (see coward) + noun suffix -ise.
Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination. [Ernest Hemingway, "Men at War," 1942]
- cowardly (adj.)
- 1550s, from coward + -ly (1). The adverb (late 14c.) is much older than the adjective:
Yit had I levir do what I may Than here to dye thus cowerdelye ["Le Morte d'Arthur," c. 1450]
An Old English word for "cowardly" was earg, which also meant "slothful." Related: Cowardliness.
- cowbell (n.)
- 1650s, American English, from cow (n.1) + bell (n.).
- cowboy (n.)
- 1725, "boy who tends to cows," from cow (n.) + boy. Sense in Western U.S. is from 1849; in figurative use by 1942 for "brash and reckless young man" (as an adjective meaning "reckless," from 1920s). Cowhand is first attested 1852 in American English (see hand (n.)). Cowpoke (said to be 1881, not in popular use until 1940s) was said to be originally restricted to the cowboys who prodded cattle onto railroad cars with long poles.
- cower (v.)
- c. 1300, probably from Middle Low German *kuren "lie in wait" (Modern German kauern), or similar Scandinavian words meaning "to squat" and "to doze" (such as Old Norse kura, Danish, Norwegian kure, Swedish kura). Thus unrelated to coward. Related: Cowered; cowering.
- cowl (n.)
- Old English cule, from earlier cugele, from Late Latin cuculla "monk's cowl," variant of Latin cucullus "hood, cowl," which is of uncertain origin. Cowling is 1917 in the aircraft sense.
- cowlick (n.)
- 1590s, from cow (n.) + lick (n.). Because it looks like a cow licked your head.
- coworker (n.)
- also co-worker, 1640s, from co- + worker (n.).
- Cowper's gland (n.)
- 1738, so called because discovered by anatomist William Cowper (1666-1709); see Cooper.
- cowrie (n.)
- small shell, used as money in parts of Asia, 1660s, from Hindi and Urdu kauri, from Mahrati kavadi, from Sanskrit kaparda, perhaps related to Tamil kotu "shell."
- cowslip (n.)
- Old English cu-slyppe, apparently from cu "cow" (see cow (n.)) + slyppe "slop, slobber, dung" (see slop (n.1)).
- surname, from early 16c., earlier Cocks (c. 1300), in many cases from cock (n.1), which apparently was used as a personal name in Old English, also as a familiar term for a boy, later used of apprentices, servants, etc. Perhaps in some cases for the sign of an inn. In some cases perhaps from cook (n.), or Welsh coch "red."
- coxcomb (n.)
- 1570s, from cokkes comb (1560s, see cockscomb). Johnson has coxcomical (adj.) "foppish, conceited," but discourages it as "a low word unworthy of use."
- coxswain (n.)
- early 14c., "officer in charge of a ship's boat and its crew," from cock "ship's boat" (from Old French coque "canoe") + swain "boy," from Old Norse sveinn "boy, servant" (see swain).
- coy (adj.)
- early 14c., "quiet, modest, demure," from Old French coi, earlier quei "quiet, still, placid, gentle," ultimately from Latin quietus "resting, at rest" (see quiet (n.)). Meaning "shy" emerged late 14c. Meaning "unwilling to commit" is 1961. Related: Coyly; coyness.
- coyote (n.)
- 1759, American English, from Mexican Spanish coyote, from Nahuatl (Aztecan) coyotl.
- coz (n.)
- 1550s, familiar abbreviation of cousin.
- coze (v.)
- to chat, 1828, of uncertain origin; perhaps from French causer "to talk," from Latin causari "to plead, dispute, discuss a question," from causa (see cause (n.)).
- cozen (v.)
- 1560s, of uncertain origin; perhaps from French cousiner "cheat on pretext of being a cousin;" or from Middle English cosyn "fraud, trickery" (mid-15c.), which is perhaps related to Old French coçon "dealer, merchant, trader," from Latin cocionem "horse dealer." Related: Cozened; cozening; cozenage.
- cozy (adj.)
- 1709, colsie, Scottish dialect, perhaps of Scandinavian origin (compare Norwegian kose seg "be cozy"). In Britain, usually cosy. Related: Cozily; coziness.
- by 1979, abbreviation of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
- by 1970, abbreviation of central processing unit.
- crab (n.1)
- crustacean, Old English crabba, from a general Germanic root (compare Dutch krab, Old High German krebiz, German Krabbe, Old Norse krabbi "crab"), related to Low German krabben, Dutch krabelen "to scratch, claw," from PIE root *gerbh- "to scratch, carve" (see carve). The constellation name is attested in English from c. 1000; the Crab Nebula (1840), however, is in Taurus, the result of the supernova of 1054, and is so called for its shape. French crabe (13c.) is from Germanic, probably Old Norse.
- crab (n.2)
- "fruit of the wild apple tree," c. 1300, crabbe, perhaps from Scandinavian (compare Swedish krabbäpple), of obscure origin. The combination of "bad-tempered, combative" and "sour" in the two nouns crab naturally yielded a verb meaning of "to vex, irritate" (c. 1400), later "to complain irritably, find fault" (c. 1500). The noun meaning "sour person" is from 1570s.
- crabbed (adj.)
- late 14c., "peevish, angry, ill-tempered," from crab (n.1), from the crab's combative disposition; mid-15c. as "resembling a crab" in reference to crookedness. Of taste "bitter, harsh," late 14c., from crab (n.2).
- crabby (adj.)
- 1520s, in now-obsolete sense "crooked, gnarled, rough," from extended sense of crab (n.1) + -y (2). Meaning "disagreeable, sour, peevish" is attested from 1776, American English. Both senses were found earlier in crabbed.
- crabgrass (n.)
- c. 1600, from crab (n.1) + grass. Originally a marine grass of salt marshes; modern meaning is from 1743. Perhaps partly for its crooked form.
- crack (v.)
- Old English cracian "make a sharp noise," from Proto-Germanic *krakojan (cognates: Middle Dutch craken, Dutch kraken, German krachen), probably imitative. Related: Cracked; cracking. From early 14c. as "to utter, say, speak, talk," especially "speak loudly or boastingly" (late 14c.). To crack a smile is from 1835, American English; to crack the whip in the figurative sense is from 1886.
- crack (n.)
- "a split, an opening," mid-15c., earlier "a splitting sound; a fart; the sound of a trumpet" (late 14c.), probably from crack (v.). Meaning "rock cocaine" is first attested 1985. The superstition that it is bad luck to step on sidewalk cracks has been traced to c.1890. Meaning "try, attempt" first attested 1830, nautical, probably a hunting metaphor, from slang sense of "fire a gun."
At their head, apart from the rest, was a black bull, who appeared to be their leader; he came roaring along, his tail straight an end, and at times tossing up the earth with his horns. I never felt such a desire to have a crack at any thing in all my life. He drew nigh the place where I was standing; I raised my beautiful Betsey to my shoulder, took deliberate aim, blazed away, and he roared, and suddenly stopped. ["A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, Written by Himself," Philadelphia, 1834]
Adjectival meaning "top-notch, superior" (as in a crack shot) is slang from 1793, perhaps from earlier verbal sense of "do any thing with quickness or smartness" (Johnson). Grose (1796) has "THE CRACK, or ALL THE CRACK. The fashionable theme, the go." To fall through the cracks figuratively, "escape notice," is by 1975.
- crackdown (n.)
- also crack down; 1935, from the verbal phrase (1915), from crack (v.) + down (adv.); probably from the sense of "to shoot at" (1913).
These scab contractors probably think that they have us whipped, but they are badly mistaken. With the reorganization of the Building Trades Council, which is progressing nicely, we will be in a position to cope with them and when we do crack down on them they will have to come across or get out. ["Journal of Electrical Workers and Operators," September 1915]
- cracked (adj.)
- mid-15c., past participle adjective from crack (v). Meaning "mentally unsound" is 17c. (compare crack-brain "crazy fellow"). The equivalent Greek word was used in this sense by Aristophanes.
- cracker (n.1)
- mid-15c., "hard wafer," but the specific application to a thin, crisp biscuit is 1739; agent noun from crack (v.). Cracker-barrel (adj.) "emblematic of down-home ways and views" is from 1877.
- cracker (n.2)
- Southern U.S. derogatory term for "poor, white trash" (1766), probably an agent noun from crack (v.) in the sense "to boast" (as in not what it's cracked up to be). Compare Latin crepare "to rattle, crack, creak," with a secondary figurative sense of "boast of, prattle, make ado about."
I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode. [1766, G. Cochrane]
But DARE compares corn-cracker "poor white farmer" (1835, U.S. Midwest colloquial). Especially of Georgians by 1808, though often extended to residents of northern Florida. Another name in mid-19c. use was sand-hiller "poor white in Georgia or South Carolina."
Not very essentially different is the condition of a class of people living in the pine-barrens nearest the coast [of South Carolina], as described to me by a rice-planter. They seldom have any meat, he said, except they steal hogs, which belong to the planters, or their negroes, and their chief diet is rice and milk. "They are small, gaunt, and cadaverous, and their skin is just the color of the sand-hills they live on. They are quite incapable of applying themselves steadily to any labor, and their habits are very much like those of the old Indians." [Frederick Law Olmsted, "A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States," 1856]
- cracker-jack (n.)
- also crackerjack, "something excellent," 1893, U.S. colloquialism, apparently a fanciful construction, earliest use in reference to racing horses. The caramel-coated popcorn-and-peanuts confection was said to have been introduced at the World's Columbian Exposition (1893). Supposedly a salesman gave it the name when he tasted some and said, "That's a cracker-jack," using the then-popular expression. The name was trademarked 1896. The "Prize in Every Box" was introduced 1912.
"Your brother Bob is traveling, isn't he?"
"Yep. He's with one of the big racing teams. I tell you, he's a cracker-jack! Wins a bushel of diamonds and gold cups every week."
["Life," Aug. 1, 1895]
- crackhead (n.)
- slang, "crack cocaine addict," by 1986, from crack (n.) in the drug slang sense + head (n.). In earlier slang, crack-headed meant "crazy" (1796), from the literal sense of crack.
- cracking (adj.)
- "excellent," colloquial from 1830s, from present participle of crack (v.).
- crackle (v.)
- mid-15c., crackelen, frequentative of cracken "to crack" (see crack (v.)). Related: Crackled; crackling. The noun is recorded from 1833.
- crackpot (n.)
- "mentally unbalanced person," 1898, probably from crack (v.) + pot (n.1) in a slang sense of "head." Compare crack-brain "crazy fellow" (late 16c.). Earlier it was used in a slang sense "a small-time big-shot" (1883), and by medical doctors in reference to a "metallic chinking sometimes heard when percussion is made over a cavity which communicates with a bronchus."
- cradle (n.)
- "baby's bed," c. 1200, cradel, from Old English cradol "little bed, cot," from Proto-Germanic *kradulaz "basket" (cognates: Old High German kratto, krezzo "basket," German Krätze "basket carried on the back"). From late 14c. as "device for holding or hoisting." Cat's cradle is so called from 1768. Cradle-snatching "amorous pursuit of younger person" is from 1906.
"It's like cradle-snatching to want to marry a girl of sixteen, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself, for you can't be much more than twenty one yourself." ["Edith Van Dyne" (L. Frank Baum), "Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad," 1906]
- cradle (v.)
- c. 1500, from cradle (n.). Related: Cradled; cradling.
- craft (n.)
- Old English cræft (West Saxon, Northumbrian), -creft (Kentish), originally "power, physical strength, might," from Proto-Germanic *krab-/*kraf- (cognates: Old Frisian kreft, Old High German chraft, German Kraft "strength, skill;" Old Norse kraptr "strength, virtue"). Sense expanded in Old English to include "skill, dexterity; art, science, talent" (via a notion of "mental power"), which led by late Old English to the meaning "trade, handicraft, calling," also "something built or made." The word still was used for "might, power" in Middle English.
Use for "small boat" is first recorded 1670s, probably from a phrase similar to vessels of small craft and referring either to the trade they did or the seamanship they required, or perhaps it preserves the word in its original sense of "power."
- craft (v.)
- Old English cræftan "to exercise a craft, build," from the same source as craft (n.). Meaning "to make skilfully" is from early 15c., obsolete from 16c., but revived c.1950s, largely in U.S. advertising and commercial senses. Related: Crafted; crafting.
- craftsman (n.)
- mid-14c., craftes man, originally "a member of a craft guild," from genitive of craft (n.) + man (n.1). Written as one word from late 14c. Old English had cræftiga in this sense. Related: Craftsmanship.
- crafty (adj.)
- mid-12c., crafti, from Old English cræftig "strong, powerful," later "skillful, ingenious," degenerating by c. 1200 to "cunning, sly" (but through 15c. also "skillfully done or made; intelligent, learned; artful, scientific") from craft (n.) + -y (2). Related: Craftily; craftiness.
- crag (n.)
- early 14c.; as a place-name element attested from c. 1200, probably from a Celtic source akin to Old Irish crec "rock," and carrac "cliff," Welsh craig "rock, stone," Manx creg, Breton krag.
- craggy (adj.)
- mid-15c.; see crag + -y (2). Related: Cragginess.
- cram (v.)
- Old English crammian "press something into something else," from Proto-Germanic *kram-/*krem- (cognates: Old High German krimman "to press, pinch," Old Norse kremja "to squeeze, pinch"), from PIE root *ger- "to gather" (see gregarious). Meaning "study intensely for an exam" originally was British student slang first recorded 1803. Related: Crammed; cramming.
- cramp (n.1)
- "muscle contraction," late 14c., from Old French crampe, from a Frankish or other Germanic word (compare Old High German krapmhe "cramp, spasm," related to kramph "bent, crooked"), from a Proto-Germanic root forming many words for "bent, crooked," including, via French, crampon. Writer's cramp is first attested 1842 as the name of a physical affliction of the hand, in reference to translations of German medical papers (Stromeyer); also known as scrivener's palsy.
- cramp (n.2)
- "metal bar bent at both ends," early 15c., from Middle Dutch crampe or Middle Low German krampe, both from the same Proto-Germanic root that yielded cramp (n.1). Metaphoric sense of "something that confines or hinders" first recorded 1719.