Lily Livered – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you seen the phrase 'lily livered' somewhere on the internet or in a text, and want to know more about what the saying means? The phrase 'lily livered' is a common English saying, though is not as common in modern times as it might first have been when it originated. This post unpacks the meaning, origin, and correct use of the phrase.


'Lily livered' is a common figurative saying in the English language, usually used as a term to describe someone or insult their nature.

When someone is described to be 'lily livered' then the phrase implies that they are a coward, or that they are weak in the face of conflict.

The saying can be used as a statement, or as a response: in both cases, the most common use of the term 'lily livered' is as an insult.

Someone is 'lily livered' when someone else implies that they are a coward, or that they are weak.

There are many other insults within English that can be said to imply the same thing.

Someone can use the reverse of the phrase or 'not lily livered' to indicate that someone is not cowardly or weak.

The saying 'lily livered' can be more common in UK and Australian English than in others,  although the internet has given the phrase more international reach.

Someone can use the spelling 'lily livered' or 'lily-livered' and both are equally valid.

Example Usage

“I told him that he was going to put pineapple on the pizza one more time and meet the bad side of me. He was too lily livered to find out what I meant, and we got a normal pizza the way we were supposed to.”

“If you're at all lily livered, you shouldn't even try to drink the vodka in my grandfather's cupboard. It's the worst thing you can imagine, and you're probably going to die from it.”

“You're too lily livered to go out and drink with my grandparents.  The strength of alcohol during the prohibition would make you sit on your ass, kids.”

“Let's not even get started about how quickly my ex-husband ran away from that divorce settlement. He's just as lily livered as my lawyer expected him to be.”


According to online language resources like, the phrase 'lily livered' has been around since the early 1600s to middle 1700s, when the phrase was first a literal reference to the lilyflower.

The flower was believed to give people physical strength, and someone who was 'lily livered' was implied to be ill or weak.

The phrase would continue in use from its introduction in the 1600s, and the modern use of the phrase would later forego the idea of the lilyflower and just keep the figurative meaning of the word.

Urban Dictionary first listed the phrase in 2006, though there is a second listing of the saying in 2013 with the same meaning.

Phrases Similar to Lily Livered

  • Cowardly lion

Phrases Opposite to Lily Livered

  • N/a

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Lily lIvered
  • Lily-livered

Ways People May Say Lily Livered Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone might use the phrase 'lily livered' in the wrong way, or misunderstand the meaning of the saying.

Someone might misspell the phrase as 'lilly' instead of 'lily', or misunderstand the meaning if they have never heard it before.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Lily Livered

There are several acceptable ways to use the phrase lily livered, including to use the phrase to say that someone is weak or cowardly.

The phrase has changed little in meaning since the introduction of the saying, and it is still used to refer to someone (usually as an insult) that implies they have no courage.

The phrase can be spelled either as 'lily livered' or as 'lily-livered', though the first use of the saying is more common.

When someone is 'not lily livered' it implies the opposite.

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