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Meaning of “Show The White Feather” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Show The White Feather

“I’ve long guessed . . . that we should find a white feather in thy tail.”—”On Bull-baiting,” Houlston Tracts (1825).

To “show the white feather” means to display a mark of inferiority in the moral sphere. : a lack of courage befote an enemy. This is the reason that during the Great War certain young ladies who constituted themselves the guardians of the nation’s manhood, no less than the exponents of its morality, went about the streets, cafes, and parks of the cities of Britain offering white feathers to young men of military age whom they encountered and who were not then in uniform. The importunate young ladies were simply trying to “show up” the undecided, and also the very decided, of their menfolk who, they thought, were cowardly holding back and refusing to serve their nation at a time of crisis. They were unable to appreciate, even if they understood, the fitct that it is not necessarily cowardice on the part of any man who refuses to use physical force as a substitute for reason and argument. They could certainly not have applauded the famous dictum of President Woodrow Wilson, that there is such a thing as being “too proud to fight.” It is even conceivable to be too courageous to fight. However mistaken may have been their zeal, these young ladies, at any rate, did not show the white feather.

Strange though it may seem, a white feather in a game bird is a strong indication of inferiority in the breed : a sign of impure or cross breeding. Especially is this so, it is said, in one class of bird—the gamecock, the fighting qualities of which are measured by its having no trace of white in its tail. We say that this is strange because white is always regarded as the badge of purity ; all the religious systems tell us that the redeemed, or purified, are robed in white. When we speak of a “white lie,” we always have in mind an untruth which we think is not really a lie ; at any rate, a lie for which there are extenuating circumstances ; and we always think of an upright, clean, honest man as “white.”


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