yellow-belliedThe prospect of changing your speech to speak with a reduced accent may seem like a daunting task, one that leaves you open to self doubt about whether you are betraying a part of your identity by making such changes. You can counter any fears you may have by reminding yourself that you are in control of the accent reduction process. You can proceed at your own pace while monitoring when and how you incorporate learned techniques. You must be  self motivated with regard to accent reduction and not become yellow-bellied, slipping back into bad habits when speaking in both formal and informal situations.

How often have you come across the idiom below in conversation and/or print?

Idiom: Yellow-bellied

The idiom ‘yellow-bellied’ is used to describe someone who is seen as cowardly, someone who lacks the courage to face anything thrown at him.


The yellow-bellied fool ran off even before his opponent stepped into the ring.


Although a common expression used in American English, the idiom ‘yellow-bellied’ actually started in England in the late 18th century. It was seen as a derogatory term, featured in the 1787 provincial glossary by Grose, comparing people to eels.

Of course, though this glossary was applied to terms commonly used in Lincolnshire Fens, the use of the term was not limited in that specific locality. In fact, the London-based Knight’s Quarterly Magazine told the story of a woman who tried guessing a few nicknames of some locals, citing that she also used the term “yellow-belly” in the process.

It is not clear however, where the term actually originated in terms of describing those seen as cowardly. Although it was used to describe a hurling team from Wexford that tied yellow cloths to their waist, this wasn’t meant to suggest the team possessed great valor.

Moving to its US usage, it was first used as a derogatory term against the Mexicans. either due to skin color or ill health. It could also be to liken them to reptiles like snakes and lizards.

Accent Reduction idioms series

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