Books, Uncategorized

Wednesday Words and Phrases #1 – Lily Liver

Hello everyone!

Wednesday – the middle of a week, the day where I would usually post Top 5 Wednesday challenges…

For someone who likes sci-fi/fantasy books, I’m a little stuck for this week’s topic so I’ve decided that it is the perfect time to start my new series that I’m calling “Wednesday Words and Phrases.” As I am now blogging on a set schedule, I’ve decided that I will do this on the weeks where I can’t do the T5W and just create a bit of variety.

The background behind this idea is that I’m intrigued and fascinated by linguistics and etymology. I didn’t realise how much I liked it until I touched on French linguistics at university, and when I started discovering the history and linguistics of Sign Language. Something just clicked, and so now when I’m reading I will always note down or highlight particular words and phrases that are interesting to me and I like the sound of.

One phrase that always seems to crack a smile for me at the moment is:

lily-liver/lily-livered (adj) meaning cowardly or weak.

It originated between 1595 and 1605 and is (obviously) made up of lily + liver.

lily (adj) = pale, bloodless, fragile, weak. Thanks to Shakespeare we can add ‘cowardly’

liver (n) = organ of the body, which was a supposed seat of love and passion.

A healthy liver is a dark reddish-brown. The ancient Greeks used to sacrifice an animal the night before a battle. If the animal’s liver was red and full of blood, that was considered a good omen. If it was pale and lily-coloured, that was an indication of bad things to come. Likewise, they figured that a coward had a pale liver too. It was Shakespeare that helped to popularise the medieval belief that the liver was a seat of courage and passion.In Macbeth he says:

“Go prick thy face and over-red thy fear, thou lily-livered boy.”

He also wrote in the Merchant of Venice: “How many cowards…have livers as white as milk.”



Colloquial and old-fashioned, it is not a term we hear anymore. Rather, it is more likely to be read in Shakespeare or books written/set up to the turn of 20th Century.

Books I know to use the phrase:

Except the Dying – Maureen Jennings (Murdoch Mysteries #1)

Have a good day!

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