- a symbol of cowardice.
- show the white feather, to behave in a cowardly manner.
Origin of white feather
First recorded in 1775–85; orig. from a white feather in a gamecock's tail, taken as a sign of inferior breeding and hence of poor fighting qualities
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
Examples from the Web for white feather
As soon as they were out of sight Jake took up the white-feather trail.Johnny Bear
E. T. Seton
On your knees, White-feather; on your knees, and much louder.St. Winifred's
Frederic W. Farrar
But tell me,’ she added, with still deeper anxiety, ‘does the white-feather come alone?The Young Fur Traders
Three more civilians, wearing the white-feather symbol on their overcoats, advanced toward Winfree.The Great Potlatch Riots
Allen Kim Lang
Not one of them would shew even the faintest tip of the white-feather.
- a symbol or mark of cowardice
- show the white feather to act in a cowardly manner
from the belief that a white feather in a gamecock's tail was a sign of a poor fighter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
Word Origin and History for white feather
as a symbol of cowardice, 1785, supposedly from game-cocks, "where having a white feather, is proof he is not of the true game breed" [Grose].
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Idioms and Phrases with white feather
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.