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white feather

noun, Chiefly British.
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 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for white feather
Historical Examples
  • You are not inclined to show the white feather now, are you?

    The Trials of the Soldier's Wife Alex St. Clair Abrams
  • Never before had there been so shameful a display of the white feather.

    Stanford Stories Charles K. Field
  • You needn't be all in a tremble—you needn't be showing of the white feather.

    A Girl of the People L. T. Meade
  • I was not going to show the white feather after what you had done.

    Fix Bay'nets George Manville Fenn
  • Do not suppose that he broke down or showed the white feather to fortune's buffets.

    Short Studies on Great Subjects James Anthony Froude
  • I never was afraid of natives, and I was not going to show the white feather now.

    Maiwa's Revenge H. Rider Haggard
  • Whenever they travelled he would not quit them, but accompanied them everywhere in the shape of a white feather.

    The Fairy Mythology Thomas Keightley
  • The quilt of a high, white feather bed was just visible behind a screen.

    War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
  • If he had not shown the white feather, he had come dangerously close to it.

    The Fighting Edge William MacLeod Raine
  • It was not the only occasion on which James the Second showed the white feather.

British Dictionary definitions for white feather

white feather

a symbol or mark of cowardice
show the white feather, to act in a cowardly manner
Word Origin
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
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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
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Idioms and Phrases with white feather

white feather

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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