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Definition: Showing a lack of courage or determination; timid.

Pronunciation: Pew-sill-an-ih-muss


This word seems to stem back to the Latin word pullus, meaning chicken or young hen.  From there it was changed to the diminutive form pusillis meaning  weak or little, and the addition of animus meaning spirit or courage was applied.

Why this word?

For every person that is brave, somewhere there is one who is not.  For that matter, for each brave move one person may make, at another point in time they may make a cowardly move to balance out that bravery.  Words for negative emotions and actions are equally as important as words for bravery.  While courageous actions may not necessarily balance out negative actions, one kind deed can go a long way in helping another person.

On a personal note, I was at the Boston Marathon the day the bombs went off.  I was about 2 miles from it and had no idea what was going on until I got home with my family and watched the news.  I cried watching the city I had grown up in be faced with such devastating actions caused by such cowardly menace; but at the same time I was proud of my city, of the medical personnel who ran towards the victims and the police that defended our city, some at the cost of their own lives.  These were not the actions of pusillanimous people.  Bombs are.

How to use the word pusillanimous?

“Your pusillanimous behavior is solely responsible for our break up.  I hope you know that!”

“You pusillanimous weasel!  I hope you get what’s coming to you!”

“Your pusillanimity is setting a poor example for all the younger children.”

“The pusillanimous nature of our enemy makes it certain that they will not face us directly.”


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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.


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