• craven •
Pronunciation: kray-vên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Extremely cowardly, fainthearted. 2. Crushed and defeated, beaten down.
Notes: Today's word would make a good past participle for the verb crave (see driven, beaten, and such like), but it appears to be unrelated to that word. It comes with an adverb, cravenly, and a noun cravenness. The phrase "to cry craven" means "to surrender, throw in the towel", in other words, to declare oneself vanquished.
In Play: The first meaning of today's Good Word is probably the most widely used: "Clara Sill's poor craven husband let the insult about her complexion pass unchallenged." Let's not forget the expression "cry craven": "Marsha Lartz will never cry craven in her quest for a full hour's lunch break."
Word History: There are two theories explaining the origin of today's Good Word, neither very satisfying. This first is that it comes from Old French crevanté "crushed, overcome". There was actually an English verb, crevent "vanquish, defeat", borrowed from French that remained in the language until the late 15th century. The other theory is that it comes from another borrowed French word, creant "to acknowedge defeat", which also disappeared in the 15th century. The problem here is how to explain the introduction of the V. Assuming the first theory correct, as I am inclined to do, Old French crevanté comes from Latin crepare "to crackle, burst, or break". (We shall not be so craven as to forget to thank Albert Skiles for suggesting today's very Good Word.)
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