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11 Craven Words for Cowards

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From the time we’re little children, we’re taught the virtues of bravery, though not always in a positive way. Kids love to taunt each other with language like “You’re yellow!” and “You’re a chicken!” As adults, we lambaste politicians for lacking the courage of their convictions. But the concept of cowardice is an old one, and there are many now-obscure words for, as Yosemite Sam might put it, lowdown yellow-bellies.

1. WHITE LIVER

You’ve probably heard a coward referred to as lily-livered. This term shares the same concept: If your liver is white, it lacks the respectable red color of blood, and therefore belongs to a coward. White liver has been around since at least 1614, but the adjective white-livered is a little older, showing the eternal appeal of hyphenated insults. A white liver can also be a flatterer.

2. WHITE FEATHER

This term has no relation to white liver, but arises from the symbolic meaning of a white feather: surrender. If you “show the white feather” or “have a white feather in your tail,” you're yella. From those uses in the late 1700s on, this became a rare synonym for coward. There’s also an amusing variation: whitefeatherism, as seen in a 1909 issue of The Leather Worker’s Journal: “It is a good answer, for it is as full of determination as theirs is of weak-kneed white featherism.”

3. SKITTERBROOK

This rare term, adopted and adapted from Dutch in the 1600s, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “One who befouls his breeches.” That’s a sure sign of cowardice in any era.

4. DASTARD

Though dastardly is still a common word, at least when describing villains, you don’t see dastard much anymore. The word has a long, if not proud, history: The first uses, back in the 1400s, are synonymous with dullard before the word takes on the odor of cowardice and downright diabolical devilry.

5. CRINGELING

These days, cringe is associated with comedy that’s overly awkward—like The Office—but cringing has long signified a lack of testicular fortitude. Since at least the late 1700s, a cringeling has been someone who lacks courage (or just likes to suck up to superiors). In his 1899 book The Teacher and His Work, Samuel Findley made an eternally true observation: “What cringelings most men are, and how admirable is true courage.”

6. COUCHER

Around since the 1400s, this word has a non-derogatory meaning as someone who is bed-ridden, and it has a super-derogatory meaning as someone who’s lying down on the job when he should be on his feet fighting. This would make a superb synonym for couch potato.

7. FAZART

This rare Scottish word for a coward deserves a richer life than it's enjoyed: fazart only turns up a few times in the 1500s. The OED can’t confirm its etymology, but passes on this juicy bit of lexical gossip: “…according to [Scottish lexicographer John] Jamieson faizard is used in some parts for a hermaphrodite fowl.” So it’s possible the lexicon of insults once again owes a debt to the barnyard.

8. PUDDING HEART

This term can be taken two ways. It can mean you have a warm, soft, possibly delicious heart—therefore, you’re a good person. Or it can mean your heart is pure mush and therefore not to be trusted when tested. An 1834 use by playwright Henry Taylor likely qualifies as fightin’ words: “Go, pudding-heart! Take thy huge offal and white liver hence.”

9. DUNGHILL

Dunghill has a surprisingly versatile repertoire when it comes to calling cowardice. You can call a figurative chicken a dunghill, but you can also die dunghill. The expression comes from the dunghill-cock, which is treated, understandably, with less reverence than the game-cock. William Toldervy, in 1756, demonstrated the disgrace denoted by the term: “Submit, be a wretch, and die dunghill.”

10. FEARTIE

This Scottish word’s etymology hardly requires explanation, though in addition to being a variation of fear, it appears related to fraidy cat. First popping up in the 1920s, you can still find fearties discussed today, at least in Scotland. Scottish political writer Andrew Tickell recently wrote, “Very soon, the SNP (Scottish National Party) will have to decide whether they are a proper social democratic party, or a nest of fearties.”

11. HEN-HEART

This term isn’t used often as a noun, though it did pop up back in the 1440s. It’s much easier to find the adjective hen-hearted. There’s also an adverbial use that would make Colonel Sanders cry (or maybe drool): hen-heartedly, which popped up in 1799’s amazingly named A Plum Pudding for Humane, Chaste, Valiant, Enlightened Peter Porcupine, who one would hope did not have a plum pudding heart.

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16 Geeky Coasters to Keep Your Coffee Table Safe
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Avoid unsightly ring stains on your coffee table with this delightful selection of coasters:

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15 Educational Facts About Old School
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Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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