white feather

noun Chiefly British.

a symbol of cowardice.

Nearby words

  1. white damp,
  2. white dwarf,
  3. white elephant,
  4. white ensign,
  5. white false hellebore,
  6. white fiber,
  7. white finger,
  8. white fir,
  9. white fish,
  10. white flag


    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. 2019

Examples from the Web for 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 for white feather

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

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

white feather

see show the white feather.

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