Etymology
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white feather (n.)
as a symbol of cowardice, 1785, said to be from the time when cock-fighting was respectable, and when the strain of game-cock in vogue had no white feathers, so that "having a white feather, is proof he is not of the true game breed" [Grose].
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feather (n.)

Old English feðer "a feather; a pen," in plural, "wings," from Proto-Germanic *fethro (source also of Old Saxon fethara, Old Norse fioþr, Swedish fjäder, Middle Dutch vedere, Dutch veder, Old High German fedara, German Feder), from PIE *pet-ra-, from root *pet- "to rush, to fly."

Feather-headed "silly" is from 1640s. Feather-duster attested by 1835. Figurative use of feather in (one's) cap attested by 1734. Birds of a feather "creatures of the same kind" is from 1580s; the same image is in Greek homopteros (variant birds of a beak is from c. 1600).

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feather (v.)

Old English fiðerian "to furnish with feathers or wings," from feðer (see feather (n.)). Meaning "to fit (an arrow) with feathers" is from early 13c.; that of "to deck, adorn, or provide with plumage" is from late 15c.

In reference to oars (later paddles, propellers, etc.), "to turn the blades in a horizontal position on lifting them from the water at the end of each stroke," to afford as little resistance as possible, it is attested from 1740, perhaps from the image of the blade turned edgewise, or from the spray of the water as it falls off (compare nautical feather-spray, that produced by the cutwater of a fast vessel). The noun in reference to this is from the verb. Meaning "to cut down to a thin edge" is from 1782, originally in woodworking. Phrase feather one's nest "enrich oneself" is from 1580s. Related: Feathered; feathering.

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white (n.)

Old English hwit "whiteness, white food, white of an egg," from white (adj.). Also in late Old English "a highly luminous color devoid of chroma." Meaning "white part of the eyeball" is from c. 1400. Meaning "white man, person of a race distinguished by light complexion" is from 1670s; white man in this sense is from 1690s. White man's burden is from Kipling's 1899 poem:

Take up the White Man's burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
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white (adj.)

Old English hwit "bright, radiant; clear, fair," also as a noun (see separate entry), from Proto-Germanic *hweit- (source also of Old Saxon and Old Frisian hwit, Old Norse hvitr, Dutch wit, Old High German hwiz, German weiß, Gothic hveits), from PIE *kweid-o-, suffixed form of root *kweit- "white; to shine" (source also of Sanskrit svetah "white;" Old Church Slavonic sviteti "to shine," svetu "light;" Lithuanian šviesti "to shine," švaityti "to brighten").

As a surname, originally with reference to fair hair or complexion, it is one of the oldest in English, being well-established before the Conquest. Meaning "morally pure" was in Old English. Association with royalist causes is late 18c. Slang sense of "honorable, fair" is 1877, American English; in Middle English it meant "gracious, friendly, favorable." The racial sense "of those races (chiefly European or of European extraction) characterized by light complexion" is recorded from c. 1600; meaning "characteristic of or pertaining to white people" is from 1852, American English. White supremacy attested from 1868, American English [John H. Van Evrie, M.D., "White Supremacy and Negro Subordination," New York, 1868]; white flight is from 1966, American English.

White way "brightly illuminated street in a big city" is from 1908. White flag of truce or surrender is from c. 1600. White lie is attested from 1741. White Christmas is attested from 1847. White House as the name of the U.S. presidential residence is recorded from 1811. White water "river rapids" is recorded from 1580s. White Russian "language of Byelorussia" is recorded from 1850; the mixed drink is from c. 1978. Astronomical white dwarf is from 1924. White witch, one who used the power for good, is from 1620s.

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feather-weight (n.)
also featherweight, "lightest weight allowable by rules," 1812 (earlier as simply feather, 1760), from feather (n.) + weight (n.). Originally in horse-racing; boxing use as a specific weight class dates from 1889.
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white-out (n.)
1946 as an extreme snow condition on the U.S. prairie, from white as a verb + out (adv.). From 1977 as a liquid correction for paper.
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pin-feather (n.)

"a young feather, one on which the vanes have not yet expanded," 1775, from pin (n.) + feather (n.). Related: Pin-feathered.

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feather-bed (n.)
Old English feþerbedd; see feather (n.) + bed (n.).
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white bread (n.)
c. 1300, as opposed to darker whole-grain type, from white (adj.) + bread (n.). Its popularity among middle-class America led to the slang adjectival sense of "conventional, bourgeois" (c. 1980). Old English had hwitehlaf.
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