Lv 7

Why is the colour "yellow" associated with cowardice?

In literature and movies, a coward is called "yellow" or "yellow-bellied." Where does this come from?


Geez, Michael, take the trouble to read the whole question before answering!!

Update 2:

Attonment, the use of "yellow" to mean cowardly comes from at least the 18th or 19th century, way before some sad Hollywood movie.

16 Answers

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    The term 'yellow-belly' began life in England in the late 18th century. Grose's A provincial glossary; with a collection of local proverbs etc, 1787, lists it:

    "Yellow bellies. This is an appellation given to persons born in the Fens, who, it is jocularly said, have yellow bellies, like their eels."

    The name wasn't limited to the Lincolnshire Fens. In the same year, Knight's Quarterly Magazine (London) published an account of life in the the Staffordshire Collieries. It began by describing the region as "a miserable tract of country commencing a few miles beyond Birmingham" and went on to recount a lady's attempts at guessing the nick-name of a local resident - Lie-a-bed, ****-eye, Pig-tail and finally Yellow-belly.

    Another English directory, A General Dictionary of Provincialisms, by William Holloway, 1839, which contains the obliging sub-heading - written with a view to rescue from oblivion the fast fading relics of by-gone days, also lists the term:

    "Yellow-belly, A person born in the Fens of Lincolnshire (From the yellow, sickly complexion of persons residing in marshy situations.)"

    Holloway clearly lifted the definition from Grose. How much credence we can give to either Grose's or Holloway's explanation of the origin of the term is open to doubt. Neither seems especially convincing. It is just as likely that 'yellow-belly' didn't refer to a person's complexion and had no literal meaning, but was simply a pleasant-sounding nonsense nick-name - somewhat akin to 'lily-livered'.

    None of the UK uses of the name are especially derogatory and none suggest cowardice. For that sense we have to travel to the USA.

    The screenplay of a B-feature western wasn't complete without a selection from the list of stock cowboy lingo. You were as likely to find a coward that wasn't called a yellow-belly as you were to see the Lone Ranger without his mask.

    The first use of the term that I can find from the USA, and one that suggests the derogatory, cowardly meaning, comes from an account of a military skirmish in Texas, reported in The Wisconsin Enquirer, April 1842:

    We learn from Capt. Wright, of the N. York, that it is the intention of the Texans to "keep dark" until the Mexicans cross the Colorado, and then give them a San Jacinto fight, with an army from 5000 to 7000 men. God send that they may bayonet every "yellow belly" in the Mexican army.

    The US usage initially applied specifically to Mexicans, who were then at war with the USA. Whether the 'yellow' reference was a racist allusion to skin colour, ill-health, or to a likening to snakes, lizards etc. isn't clear. Whatever the origin, the US 'coward' version seems to be independent of the earlier English nick-name.

    Copyright © Gary Martin, 1996 - 2008

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    try this one...

    "Yellow equals cowardice because of the chicken. A chicken is not a brave bird. It will not fight to protect its young as a goose or swan may do. The yellow skin of a chicken, and if you have ever had farm raised chickens you will clearly see that the skin is a bright yellow. Yellow equals chicken equals coward. Treason is associated with cowardice because it is an attempt to overthrow the existing government. Instead of fixing whatever problems there may be my a majority of citizens, the cowards trick others into treasonist acts. A political overthrow, equals a coup equals cowards or chickens who live in coops. A coup test is treason as it should be and is punishable by death."

    Source(s): The Phrase Finder
  • becka
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    Yellow Belly Coward

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    This Site Might Help You.


    Why is the colour "yellow" associated with cowardice?

    In literature and movies, a coward is called "yellow" or "yellow-bellied." Where does this come from?

    Source(s): colour yellow cowardice:
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  • 1 decade ago

    Interesting that there isn't a color associated with bravery...

    Edit: Quoting...A more plausible source is the medieval theory of medicine that assumed there were four humors (fluids) in the body. These determined the physical and mental condition of the person. If they got out of balance, you got sick or went crackers. The four humors were blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Yellow bile (choler from the Greek kholos for gall) made you peevish, choleric, irascible. The disease cholera got its name from the symptom of, ah, yellowish diarrhea. From there to yellow as symbol of jealousy and inconstancy was a pretty easy step.

  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    For the best answers, search on this site

    I have always heard people say you have a yellow streak running up your back. Here is what I found on one site that might help explain it: It has nothing to do with a person's perceived color. Rather, it's a nod to the legendary yellowbelly lizard, a reptile apparently not known for its intestinal fortitude (aka "guts"). The story goes that when confronted, the yellowbelly lizard "exits on its belly as soon as possible."

  • skycat
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    And a very good evening to you Anna

    I am sure it associated with with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.

    Yellow: the colour of sunshine. It's associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.

    Yellow is such a happy and optimistic colour shining bright like the sun and I love it especially a creamy soft yellow

    Yellow is such a cheery, happy colour for me anyway

    Wishing you sunshine, love and laughter. Not just today, but all the days after xoxo

  • 1 decade ago

    Good Q anna and i'm sorry i dont know but seven 9 has the idea i was thinking along?? Alcohol as the crutch needed to face fear as the tougher man deals level headed?? We maybe miles off but it's intriguing???

  • 1 decade ago

    I really don't know why colours are linked with certain things. Another example would be "green" being associated with "envy". It is certainly thought provoking. I'm sure there are websites that reveal all!!

  • 1 decade ago

    yellow bellied is from a lizard with a yellow belly that crawls on the ground.... i know about the origins of green!

    EDIT: It could also be because urine is yellow and in extreme fear you may wet yourself...

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