Definition of white feather in US English:

white feather

noun

  • A white-colored feather used as a symbol or mark of perceived cowardice.

    • ‘Before the white feathers begin to thump through the letter box, I am neither an appeaser nor am I a defeatist.’
    • ‘His mates send him white feathers, the sign of cowardice, and his brain goes into shock.’
    • ‘The film opens with explanatory titles - in the days of Olde Victorian England, cowardice was denoted by the presentation of a white feather.’
    • ‘When young army officer Harry Feversham loses his nerve on the eve of being despatched to the Sudan, his three closest colleagues brand him a coward by sending him white feathers.’
    • ‘Every morning I get these emailed images of white feathers sent to me by folks who think I should sign up.’
    • ‘Tom Brash was of the latter view, and he received many insults and white feathers in the mail.’
    • ‘Can we discuss the war against drugs without being offered the white feather?’
    • ‘In his book, he takes a platoon through a year of battle in the jungle undergrowth, cowardice, heroism, gallantry and the white feather.’
    • ‘His friends and fiancée give him four white feathers symbolizing his cowardice.’
    • ‘Even so, I feel the white feather pressing into my back every time I give in.’
    • ‘Those who did not want to join the military could be targeted by people as cowards - being handed white feathers and being refused service by shops and pubs etc.’
    • ‘Another year or so and the proponents of this public display of remembrance will be handing out white feathers to the nonconformists.’
    • ‘Perhaps it is defensiveness, but I don't feel particularly blessed by this patriarchal society and when I read about white feathers in WWI, I find it hard to think of it as purely male oppression.’

Phrases

  • show the white feather

    • dated Behave in a cowardly fashion.

      • ‘Therefore, we shall have nobody but ourselves to blame if our children show the white feather or lack of confidence in whatever they seek to accomplish.’
      • ‘Donegal's tails were up following the success of their footballers, but Mayo, according to all reports, had no intention of showing the white feather and stood up to all Donegal could unleash in seven minutes added on.’
      • ‘To ‘show the white feather’ was therefore to be ‘unmanly’.’

Origin

Late 18th century: with reference to a white feather in the tail of a game bird, seen as a mark of bad breeding.

Pronunciation

white feather

/ˌ(h)wīt ˈfeT͟Hər/