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Old 11-05-2009, 07:27 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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Why does a white feather signify cowardice?

To D'artagnan and Cyrano De Bergerac a white feather (aka panache) was a symbol of courage.

Why, then, was a white feather a symbol of cowardice to Harry Faversham?
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  #2  
Old 11-05-2009, 07:52 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is online now
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How about: England and France have different customs and culture resulting in different symbolic interpretations of the item in question.
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Old 11-06-2009, 12:55 AM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is offline
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According to Webster's Online, it comes from cockfighting.
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Old 11-06-2009, 01:47 AM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock used to wear a white feather in his hat during his time in Vietnam. He was known as "the white feather soldier" by the Vietnamese enemies. Obviously since they had been colonised and influenced by the French, they viewed the feather as a symbol of power and bravery.
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Old 11-06-2009, 08:54 AM
robby robby is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock used to wear a white feather in his hat during his time in Vietnam. He was known as "the white feather soldier" by the Vietnamese enemies. Obviously since they had been colonised and influenced by the French, they viewed the feather as a symbol of power and bravery.
I heard him speak about 20 years ago at a Navy/Marine Corps Dining-In. For those not familiar with GySgt Hathcock, he was a Marine Corps sniper in the Vietnam War.

He was a very good speaker, rather quiet and unassuming. He spoke about the NVA general he killed after slowly crawling for four days in full camouflage to get in position. After killing the general, he slowly crawled away, despite the enemy soldiers trying to find him. He also killed an enemy sniper (assigned to kill him) by putting a round down the enemy sniper's scope and scoring a direct head shot.

He wore a white feather on his bush hat, supposedly to even the odds for the enemy.
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Old 11-06-2009, 09:14 AM
Bisected8 Bisected8 is offline
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According to wikipedia the idea that a white feather signifies cowardice comes from the idea that a cock in a cock fight with a white tail feather would perform poorly as it was a sign it wasn't purebred;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_f...l_of_cowardice

Last edited by Bisected8; 11-06-2009 at 09:14 AM.
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Old 11-06-2009, 11:02 AM
tallcoldone tallcoldone is offline
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My son's high school fight song has the line "... we'll not show white feather..."

I understood the meaning but not the reference. Ignorance fought!
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Old 11-07-2009, 02:12 AM
movingfinger movingfinger is offline
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The story I heard was that steam-powered riverboats on the Mississippi used to engage in races, not just for the sport of it, but to ensure bragging rights as the fastest boat on the river.

Naturally, steam boilers would not generate steam beyond a certain point as the safety valve would open automatically to vent dangerously high steam pressure.

Well...if he wanted to win a race badly enough, the boat's captain could shut down the safety valve to allow pressure to build to the point where the boiler, the boat and all aboard it were in peril of a catastrophic explosion.

If sanity prevailed (as it occasionally did) one or another of the captains would admit defeat by opening the safety valve and allowing a huge plume of steam to escape. This was visible to all, and was seen as a major wuss-out. It was described as showing the white feather; kind of like blinking in a face-to-face contest.

BTW, There is a small mining town in Colorado called Silver Plume which got its name from the bursts of steam generated by the locomotives that served the local mines.
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Old 11-07-2009, 02:22 AM
Martini Enfield Martini Enfield is offline
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If you're interested in the social implications of The White Feather, then the 1939 version of The Four Feathers is well worth seeing.
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Old 11-07-2009, 11:33 AM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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Do you have a cite for that, movingfinger? It sounds like folk etymology.
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Old 11-07-2009, 12:08 PM
Bisected8 Bisected8 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Morris View Post
Do you have a cite for that, movingfinger? It sounds like folk etymology.
I'm going to agree with this. The fact that it seems (according the the wikipedia article) to have less significance in the US (as it can also be a symbol of something other than cowardice) implies it may well have an origin outside the US.
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Old 11-07-2009, 01:35 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robby View Post
For those not familiar with GySgt Hathcock, he was a Marine Corps sniper in the Vietnam War.
And an Arkansan.
Outstanding!
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Old 11-07-2009, 03:25 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Amazing View Post
According to Webster's Online, it comes from cockfighting.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bisected8 View Post
According to wikipedia the idea that a white feather signifies cowardice comes from the idea that a cock in a cock fight with a white tail feather would perform poorly as it was a sign it wasn't purebred.

Thanks, this appears well cited.

Does anyone know how come a panache was a symbol of courage to Cyrano?
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Old 11-07-2009, 04:03 PM
Telperion Telperion is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Morris View Post
Does anyone know how come a panache was a symbol of courage to Cyrano?
White was the dominant colour of the French army before the revolution since it was the colour of the house of Bourbon. They had white banners and uniforms and officers wore a white silk scarf around the neck, so it's pretty easy to picture a big white plume fitting right in as a sign of status.
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Old 11-07-2009, 11:47 PM
movingfinger movingfinger is offline
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Nope; no cite, I don't recall where I read it, and it may well be folk etymology.

But it's good folk etymology!
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Old 11-08-2009, 12:15 AM
Roderick Femm Roderick Femm is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Telperion View Post
White was the dominant colour of the French army before the revolution since it was the colour of the house of Bourbon. They had white banners and uniforms and officers wore a white silk scarf around the neck, so it's pretty easy to picture a big white plume fitting right in as a sign of status.
Yes, Comte de Guiche had a white scarf of rank, which he threw away in battle in order to escape being shot. Cyrano wore his large white plume to battle as a contrast, so show up his rival's cowardice and to draw fire. So I thought that it became the symbol in the play because of the reason he wore it in battle, as a sign of his bravery.

(Not sure about D'Artagnan, since in point of time I believe he came before Cyrano.)

Could it be a question of size? Cyrano's was a large white plume; the four feathers given to Harry Faversham were small, like wing feathers (based on the aforementioned 1939 version of the movie).


Roddy
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Old 11-08-2009, 12:36 AM
Martini Enfield Martini Enfield is offline
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Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
Could it be a question of size? Cyrano's was a large white plume; the four feathers given to Harry Faversham were small, like wing feathers (based on the aforementioned 1939 version of the movie).
I believe the fourth feather given to Faversham in the novel was an ostrich feather from his fiancee's hat, but otherwise I believe white chicken feathers (or something equally small) were used.

Also, the correct protocol was for an Officer or Gentleman would attach his calling card to the white feather, so the accused would know exactly who was calling him a coward. Of course, feathers were also sent anonymously (as late as WWI, I believe) but that sort of thing was heavily frowned upon.
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Old 11-08-2009, 08:26 AM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
(Not sure about D'Artagnan, since in point of time I believe he came before Cyrano.)

Roddy
Historically, Dartagnan 1611-1673, Cyrano 1619-1655


D'artagnan is actually a minor character in Rostand's play. He and Cyrano meet in act 1. I thi9nk he has one line.
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Old 11-08-2009, 01:14 PM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
Yes, Comte de Guiche had a white scarf of rank, which he threw away in battle in order to escape being shot. Cyrano wore his large white plume to battle as a contrast, so show up his rival's cowardice and to draw fire. So I thought that it became the symbol in the play because of the reason he wore it in battle, as a sign of his bravery.

(Not sure about D'Artagnan, since in point of time I believe he came before Cyrano.)

Could it be a question of size? Cyrano's was a large white plume; the four feathers given to Harry Faversham were small, like wing feathers (based on the aforementioned 1939 version of the movie).


Roddy
There's also a pun, or play on words there in the original French : the while plume Cyrano bears in battle is called a panache blanc. Cyrano, of course, his well known for his moral panache, which he takes all the way to the grave.

The white plume(s) as a badge of courage in France dates I believe back to king Henri IV, who would lead his troops into battle from the front rather than the back rows, wearing white feathers on his helmet and telling his soldiers to "follow my white panache !", which made him distinctive in battle... and a target.
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