Last time we talked about the word hero—what it means and what it takes to be one. In this post, we’re discussing two words that are often connected to heroism: courage and bravery.
Today the words are used interchangeably, but a look to their history reveals an important difference.
First let’s look at current definitions.
Bravery is the “quality or state of being brave,” and Merriam-Webster, in its unabridged online version, defines brave as “resolute in facing odds; able to meet danger or endure pain or hardship without giving in to fear.” The unabridged dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength enabling one to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty firmly and resolutely.”
It’s worth noting that here Merriam-Webster also defines brave as “having or showing courage.”
The current definitions are very similar. Yet, when we look at how courage and bravery came into the English language, a distinction shows.
Merriam-Webster notes that courage is linked historically to cœur, the French word for heart. Brave, on the other hand, comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning “brave, bold.” Bravo, interestingly enough, originally meant “wild, savage,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary.
There is a quote that goes “The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you’re dead.”
That’s the main takeaway when you consider the etymology. Bravery can be the split-second decision to run into a field filled with flying arrows. Bravery can be dangerously close to stupidity, to wild and savage.
Courage, however, takes something deeper. It takes heart. Courage is donating a kidney to your sister because you love her so deeply. Courage is a doctor or a nurse choosing to work in an Ebola-stricken region because they want to relieve human suffering.
Bravery is eating an earthworm sandwich because your buddy dared you.
What do you think?
Is there a difference between courage and bravery? Or should we use them interchangeably? Let me know in the comments.