Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Well, time to get back to theme here, I guess. "Craven" isn't exactly a word I think of as an everyday sort of word. In fact, it brings to mind Dickensian characters. But I've used it myself recently, and it seems to be popping up everywhere I look for some reason. So what does it really mean? And where does it come from?
In my thinking, the craven person is a bit of a suck-up. But there is also the sense of weakness and cowardice in their makeup, as well as large amounts of disingenuousness, calculation and self-interest. So let's look at the dictionary definition...
"Characterized by abject fear; cowardly." And worse:"lacking the least bit of courage; contemptibly fainthearted" . Cowardice. Well, that seems pretty uncomplicated. Its roots, though, seem a bit more tangled.
It goes back to Middle English cravant, which is thought to come from old French crevant or crevante, meaning "defeated", which comes from cravanter, "to strike doen, to fall down," and back to Latin crepare, to crack or creak. Sometime around 1400, the word shifted from the sense of "defeated" to the current sense of cowardly, possibly under the influence of the word "crave", which comes from the different Old English crafian, to beg.
Now here's something interesting--well, at least to me. For some unknown reason, I was just thinking this morning about the word "recreant", thinking I might do it as a future blog post. But apparently there is one school of thought that sees some link between these words, as "recreant" also turns out to mean a coward, or cravenly person. Here's an Etymological Dictionary page on the subject. Apparently," recreant" goes back to the Latin credere, to believe, and has the meaning of yielding, or surrendering allegiance. I suppose it's as simple as one word being about the process of being broken, and the other being about the act of surrender.
Either way, it doesn't look too good for the poor craven recreant in the end...