The first known use of lily-livered was in 1605. From the medieval belief that the liver was the seat of courage, and the pale color of the lily flower. A person who had no blood in their liver would have no courage and would thus be a coward. Equivalent to lily + livered.
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- (idiomatic) Cowardly, lacking courage.
- c. 1603–1606, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of King Lear”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act II, scene ii], page 291, column 2:
- 1850, William Makepeace Thackeray, chapter 61, in The History of Pendennis:
- But as for that lily-livered sneak—that poor lyin' swindlin' cringin' cur of a Clavering—who stands in my shoes—stands in my shoes, hang him!