What does the idiom "have a yellow streak" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does have a yellow streak mean? In what situations is have a yellow streak used?

Meaning of "have a yellow streak"


The idiom "have a yellow streak" is used to describe someone who shows cowardice in a particular situation. It suggests that they have a cowardly nature and may turn away from a challenge when under pressure. It can be applied to both individuals or groups of people.


The idiom “have a yellow streak” is believed to be derived from the phrase “yellow-bellied coward” which was first used in the 1800s. The origin of this phrase is unclear but some suggest it may be related to the phrase “yellow-belly”, which was used to describe a coward in the late 19th century. Interestingly, the phrase “have a yellow streak” was first recorded in the early 20th century and was popularized by the writer O. Henry in his 1908 story “The Wind and the Rain”.


The phrase “have a yellow streak” is used to describe someone who lacks courage or is easily intimidated. It is generally used in a negative way and implies a certain lack of spine or moral integrity. It is often used to express disbelief or disapproval of someone’s behavior in a particular situation. It can be used to describe an individual or group of people who avoided taking action when other people deemed it necessary, or when there was a challenge or risk involved.

Example Sentences

  • He was brave enough to stand up for his opinion but his colleagues all had a yellow streak and decided to stay quiet.
  • I was shocked when I saw how quickly the team had a yellow streak and chose not to help their friend in need.
  • It’s easy to talk tough when there’s no real risk, but it takes a real man not to have a yellow streak when it counts.

The meanings of the words in the "have a yellow streak" idiom

Idioms with similar meanings in different languages

"Barking up the wrong tree" is an English idiom that means to pursue a mistaken or misguided course of action. In German, the similar idiom is "Auf dem Holzweg sein," which translates to "To be on the wrong track." This idiom emphasizes the idea that when you are pursuing the wrong course of action, you are not going to achieve your desired outcome.


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