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A white-coloured feather used as a symbol or mark of perceived cowardice. During the First World War young men seen not wearing uniform were sometimes presented with such a feather, as part of a campaign to induce men to enlist for military service:‘on his first trip out in civilian clothes, he'd been handed two white feathers’
- ‘Another year or so and the proponents of this public display of remembrance will be handing out white feathers to the nonconformists.’
- ‘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.’
- ‘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.’
- ‘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.’
- ‘Tom Brash was of the latter view, and he received many insults and white feathers in the mail.’
- ‘Every morning I get these emailed images of white feathers sent to me by folks who think I should sign up.’
- ‘Can we discuss the war against drugs without being offered the white feather?’
- ‘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.’
- ‘The film opens with explanatory titles - in the days of Olde Victorian England, cowardice was denoted by the presentation of a white feather.’
- ‘Before the white feathers begin to thump through the letter box, I am neither an appeaser nor am I a defeatist.’
- ‘Even so, I feel the white feather pressing into my back every time I give in.’
- ‘His mates send him white feathers, the sign of cowardice, and his brain goes into shock.’
Late 18th century: with reference to a white feather in the tail of a game bird, seen as a mark of bad breeding.
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