The news last week included a story of a driver who forced another vehicle off the road and then returned to drive straight at the three occupants, killing one of them.
Senior police officers described this crime as “cowardly.”
I wonder what they would have the attacker do? Drive at the three young men, killing one of them, but then hang around until the ambulance and police came, so that he (or she — but probably he) could take responsibility for his actions? It seems entirely unlikely, since the assumption here is that this was a deliberate act, not a tragic accident.
This is not the first time I have seen the word “cowardly” so oddly used. Prior to this, the most inappropriate use of the word I’ve noticed was in describing the terrorists who flew airplanes at the World Trade Center. Whatever else they may have been, the suicide bombers were hardly cowards.
Merriam-Webster defines a coward as one who shows disgraceful fear or timidity. It reminds me of the attitudes prevalent in previous wars, when those who chose not to fight or went AWOL were considered cowards.
So why would one use “cowardly” to describe an apparently intentional attack? All these attitudes are, for me, tied up in a traditional men’s world that I still don’t understand.
Anyway, to get back to the language issue, here are some suggested alternatives to “cowardly” to describe deliberate attacks: