• poltroon •Pronunciation: pêl-trun • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A mean-spirited, spiteful coward, a craven.
Notes: The quality noun, which refers to the character of a poltroon, is poltroonery, a word you can have a lot of fun with. The adjective, poltroonish, means "like a poltroon". If this isn't enough to get you started with this Good Word, the verb is poltroonize "to play the poltroon".
In Play: We all know people who like to criticize jobs they lack the courage to tackle, "We need more people with the courage to take on city hall and fewer poltroons who whimper insults at it." We encounter smaller acts of poltroonery everyday, "Eva Brick is such an old poltroon for criticizing Bonita's hair-do behind her back."
Word History: English snitched this word from the French (poltron), who got it from Old Italian poltrone "coward, idler". The Italian word is based either on poltro "unbroken colt" or poltro "bed, couch"—we aren't sure which. The first Italian word, poltro, is the descendant of Vulgar (street) Latin pulliter, a variant of real Latin pullus "young animal", the ultimate source of English pullet. If the word comes from the Old Italian word for "bed, couch" (today's poltrona "easy chair"), it is related to English bolster, for that word was borrowed from an Old Germanic ancestor of Modern German Polster "pillow", a cousin of bolster.