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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

Examples from the Web for white feather

Historical Examples

  • 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

    R.M. Ballantyne

  • Three more civilians, wearing the white-feather symbol on their overcoats, advanced toward Winfree.

  • Not one of them would shew even the faintest tip of the white-feather.


British Dictionary definitions for 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 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 white feather

white feather

see show the white feather.

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