Listening to a BBC News Podcast today, there was interesting part that started with Jeb Bush's remarks on Marco Rubio (in the Republican debate) that he should resign from Congress because of his poor voting record. Bush said, "When you signed up for this, this was a six-year term. And you should be showing up to work. I mean literally, the Senate, what is it like a French work-week? You get like 3 days where you have to show up?"

In the middle of checking facts (about French work-week), a journalist working in France (with a thick French-English accent) mentions, "The French are used to being commented upon, especially by the Bush family bacause a brother of Jeb, George the former President, 12 years ago labeled France as a cowardice when it came into the war in Iraq."

Question 1: Cowardice means:

fear that makes you unable to do what is right or expected : lack of courage [Merriam-Webster]

and there is no indication that it can be used interchangeably to mean a "coward". Are my understanding and research wrong?

Question 2: Is there a possibility the journalist used a "cowardice" because it rhymes with "France" or because it is a country rather than a person?

Question 3: Is it more perjorative to call someone/a country a "cowardice"?

Question 4 (Most important question): Did the word "cowardice" used to mean "coward" etymologically in the past and has it lost the meaning? Which of the two words became an English word first and how have these 2 words evolved?

closed as off-topic by Chenmunka, Robusto, FumbleFingers, Mitch, Cyberherbalist Oct 30 '15 at 16:15

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – waiwai933 Nov 3 '15 at 18:42

George the former President, 12 years ago labeled France as a cowardice when it came into the war in Iraq."

Listening to the passage in the downloadable MP3 podcast Syria peace talks in Vienna 24:23. I hear that as a hesitation, i.e.

"...labeled France as — ah — cowardice..."

Clearly the speaker is incorrect and there are several explanations, e.g.

. The speaker lost track of what he was saying

. The speaker was trying incorrectly to form the plural of coward.

My Answer

However my suggestion is that it was a vocabulary error and the speaker did not know the word 'cowardly'.

"George the former President, 12 years ago labeled France as — ah — cowardly when it came into the war in Iraq."


Continuing in the same vein, it is possible that the journalist was attempting to form an adjective from 'coward'. It is not immediately obvious how you should do that in English. We add 'ly' but appending 'ly' could be expected to produce an adverb. The speaker's 'cowardice' may have been a guess at, or a slight mispronunciation of, the adjectival form, 'cowardish'

That is not so crazy.


(comparative more cowardish, superlative most cowardish)

  • (obsolete) cowardly

coward +‎ -ish


"George the former President, 12 years ago labeled France as — ah — cowardish when it came into the war in Iraq."

  • I like cowardish! – Dan Oct 30 '15 at 17:34

I've read all the comments. It seems very possible that the phrase

...labeled France as a cowardice when it came...' was in fact

...labeled France's, er, cowardice when it came ...'

A moment's hesitation before calling a country cowardly seems reasonable.

  • Hmm... You can label a country with cowardice but I don't think you can label cowardice itself. What would you label it with? You could lament a country's cowardice I suppose but that has a different meaning. – chasly from UK Oct 30 '15 at 13:39
  • Yes. I agree you can't. I think it's most likely that the 'mis-speaking' was by the French journalist using the word 'labeled' (instead of, say, described). – Dan Oct 30 '15 at 13:43
  • I'm not convinced. If he was having trouble thinking of the word 'described' then the hesitation would have occurred there. "George the former President, 12 years ago -- er -- labeled France's cowardice..." Your interpretation requires too much massaging of the words. – chasly from UK Oct 30 '15 at 13:48
  • Who can say, except that it's not uncommon, even for fluent speakers of second languages, to use words wrongly but with confidence! – Dan Oct 30 '15 at 17:30