Better a live coward than a dead hero.

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  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    If you do heroic (or dare-devil) deeds, you might end up being killed. If you keep away from heroic days (and hence open yourself to being labelled coward), you won't end up killed. A coward gets to keep his/her life.
     

    DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I don't think you can really call this a proverb, since that description usually implies a long historical tradition of popular use.

    From my point of view, why should I perform a heroic deed, if it results in my own death? It is in my personal interests to act like a coward, since in that case I will continue to live.
     

    pwmeek

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Better a live coward than a dead hero. This phrase is usually used to describe a person's choices when faced with a threatening situation. The situation is rarely life-threatening, so this phrase is usually used figuratively. In such situations, it means that not taking an aggressive stance may be seen as cowardly, but is probably the best way to handle the situation.

    I am at a bar or club, and some drunk begins to push me around. I can choose to move away from him or push him back. I am not likely in danger of losing my life either way, but I choose to back away.

    My friend asks, "Why didn't you push back?" and I reply, "Better a live coward than a dead hero."

    I think I will disagree with DocPenfro, as I think this has a fairly long history of use, and thus is either a proverb or an adage. It appears on several lists of proverbs. Google shows about 300 actual hits (44,000 raw) for the exact phrase in quotation marks, although about half of them are requests for translation.

    Searching is difficult, as the lead-in may be slightly different: "I'd rather be..." or "Better to be..." and the like. It also appears in a slightly different form using "live dog/dead lion" (which derives from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible).

    That is the exact opposite to another adage (motto, actually): "Live free, or die!" meaning that one should never submit to oppression. I confess, my personal philosophy is closer to this adage.
     

    DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I think I will disagree with DocPenfro
    Spoiling for a fight, Pete? DocPenfro always pushes back provided he's got several thousand miles between himself and any serious risk to life and limb. The Google ngram viewer is suggesting that its use in more or less the quoted form originated around 1900 and peaked about the time of WW2. Its popularity seems to have diminished since the 1970s. I shall leave it to braver men than myself to decide whether that entitles it to the status of a bona fide proverb.

    p.s. I always preferred "better to live on your feet than to die on your knees" (Catch-22, quoted from memory)
     

    pwmeek

    Senior Member
    English - American
    “Because it’s better to die on one’s feet than live on one’s knee,” Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. “I guess you’ve heard that saying before.”
    “Yes, I certainly have,” mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. “But I’m afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees. That is the way the saying goes.”
    “Are you sure?” Nately asked with sober confusion. “It seems to make more sense my way.”
    “No, it makes more sense my way. Ask your friends.”

    Heller, Joseph; (2010-10-26). Catch-22 (p. 233). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
    DocP, it seems that Catch-22 has it both ways, with no clear decision either way. But it certainly is the same proverb (or saying) in different clothing.
     
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