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white feather

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noun Chiefly British.
  1. a symbol of cowardice.
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Idioms
  1. show the white feather, to behave in a cowardly manner.
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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

British Dictionary definitions for show the white feather

white feather

noun
  1. a symbol or mark of cowardice
  2. show the white feather to act in a cowardly manner
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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

Word Origin and History for show the white feather

white feather

n.

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].

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with show the white feather

show the white feather

Display cowardice, as in The minute Bob put up his fists, Bill showed the white feather and backed down. This expression comes from cockfighting, where a white feather in a bird's tail is considered a sign of inferior breeding. [Early 1800s]

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white feather

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