Why does yellow mean cowardly in English?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by yennette1495, Jun 2, 2013.

  1. yennette1495

    yennette1495 New Member

    Paris, FRANCE
    Hello, I would like to know the reason why the adjective "yellow" can mean "cowardly or afraid", I don't see the connection between both words, thank you very much for your help.
  2. Ellea1

    Ellea1 Senior Member

    Southern French

    Well if "yellow" is part of an idiom it probably does not have its original meaning.

    Could you please give the sentence?

    A speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/IDIOMS)
  3. yennette1495

    yennette1495 New Member

    Paris, FRANCE
    thanks for your reply already ! here is the context, a soldier doesn't want to undertake another mission during wwII and says : " I wished I had the guts to go in there and tell the colonel I was yellow". I looked it up in the dictionary and found it meant " cowardly" but I can't figure out the reason why "yellow" could possibly mean that.
  4. Treaty Senior Member

    I don't know the English "yellow" but in Persian "yellow face" may implies either anxiety, fear or weakness. It contrasts with "red face" which signifies anger, courage and livelihood. I suppose it's ultimately related to the rush of blood in face (redness) where its lack may indicate illness (yellowish). Maybe such a concept has also existed in English (though it seems that green is the colour usually associated to weakness).
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2013
  5. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Your first stop resource etymonline has the following to tell us:
    Sense of "cowardly" is 1856, of unknown origin; the color was traditionally associated rather with treachery.
  6. ancalimon Senior Member

    In Turkish sararmak (to turn into yellowish color, to turn pale) means to become afraid, to become sad, etc..

    I guess it's related to face turning pale ~ yellowish when afraid of, anxious about something.
  7. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    Yellow-belly is also used to mean a coward. I figured this would be related, but apparently it referred to someone who lived in a swampy area..? Maybe it's still related, though.

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