Definition of white feather in English:

white feather

noun

  • 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’
    • ‘In his book, he takes a platoon through a year of battle in the jungle undergrowth, cowardice, heroism, gallantry and the white feather.’
    • ‘His mates send him white feathers, the sign of cowardice, and his brain goes into shock.’
    • ‘Tom Brash was of the latter view, and he received many insults and white feathers in the mail.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Another year or so and the proponents of this public display of remembrance will be handing out white feathers to the nonconformists.’
    • ‘Before the white feathers begin to thump through the letter box, I am neither an appeaser nor am I a defeatist.’
    • ‘The film opens with explanatory titles - in the days of Olde Victorian England, cowardice was denoted by the presentation of a white feather.’
    • ‘His friends and fiancée give him four white feathers symbolizing his cowardice.’
    • ‘Every morning I get these emailed images of white feathers sent to me by folks who think I should sign up.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Can we discuss the war against drugs without being offered the white feather?’
    • ‘Even so, I feel the white feather pressing into my back every time I give in.’

Phrases

  • show the white feather

    • dated Behave in a cowardly fashion.

      ‘he showed the white feather and ordered a general retreat’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘To ‘show the white feather’ was therefore to be ‘unmanly’.’
      • ‘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.’

Origin

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