Green’s Dictionary of Slang

feather n.

1. (UK Und.) the hair; cit. 1865 may imply a general sprucing up rather than simply brushing one’s hair.

implied in moult one’s feathers
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 26/1: Tommy was below, and having ‘brushed his feather’ and put himself to rights, he made for the bar.

2. the pubic hair.

[[UK]R. Ames Folly of Love [She] thinks days are ages till the sport she’s seen Altho her am’rous Nest is hardly Feather’d].
[UK]M. Prior Dove in Works (1959) I 437: O, whither do these Fingers rove, Cries chloe, treacherous Urchin, whither? O venus! I shall find thy dove, Says He; for sure I touch his Feather.
[UK] in D’Urfey Pills to Purge Melancholy VI 221: The Shepherd he saw The bright Venus, he swore, For he knew her own Dove, By the Feathers she wore.
[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 35: The Spook pried open his clenched rump [...] ‘My, my,’ the Spook murmured, ‘not a feather on him. Some jocker’s due to score.’.

3. (UK tramp) a bed.

[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 111: The ‘feathers’* clinging to his hair and whiskers. [footnote] Particles of the barley-straw which formed his bed.
[UK]W.H. Davies Autobiog. of a Super-Tramp 211: I never fail to get the sixteen farthings for my feather (bed), I get all the scrand (food) I can eat; and I seldom lie down at night but what I am half skimished (half drunk), for I assure you I never go short of my skimish.
[UK]W.H. Davies Adventures of Johnny Walker 191: Sixteen farthings for a feather – fourpence for a bed.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

4. see bull’s feather under bull n.1

In phrases

in the feathers

(US) in bed.

[UK] ‘Job Halls & Mike Hunt’ Lummy Chaunter 83: In the Feathers you’d find him soaking with Mike Hunt.
[US]Ade ‘Hickey Boy and the Grip’ In Babel 107: They had me in the feathers with many brands of dope shot into me.
moult one’s feathers (v.)

to lose one’s hair through syphilis.

[UK]Dekker Newes from Hell in Works II 104: In this passage through the Citty, whet a number of Lord Mayors, Aldermens, and rich Commoners sonnes and heyres kept a hallowing out at Taverne-windowes to our knight, and wafted him to their Gascoigne shores with their hats only (for they had molted away all their feathers).

SE in slang uses

In derivatives

In compounds

feather bed(ding)

see separate entries.

feather driver (n.) [his quill pens]

a clerk.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 382/1: C.16–17.
feather duster (n.) [resemblance]

1. (US) a style of facial whisker.

[US]C. Sandburg ‘Alley Rats’ Smoke and Steel 20: They were calling certain styles of whiskers by the name of ‘lilacs.’ / And another manner of beard assumed in their chatter a verbal guise / Of ‘mutton chops,’ ‘galways,’ ‘feather dusters’.

2. (US) an American Indian [ref. to the head-dress].

[US](con. 1870s) E. Cunningham Triggernometry (1957) 61: The Indians were levying a tax of ten cents a head on all cattle crossing The Nation [...] It was decided to tell the feather-dusters where to go.
feather-legged (adj.) [i.e. one’s legs are shaking like feathers in the wind]

(US) terrified, extremely frightened.

[US]T.S. Stribling Unfinished Cathedral 56: By God, I’m going down and organize every man on the outside against your damned feather-legged bunch! [DARE].
[US] in PADS [DARE].
[US] in DARE.
[US]Cooper NC Mountain Folklore 91: Feather-legged—cowardly [DARE].
feather merchant (n.) [he cannot or does not ‘pull his weight’] (orig. US milit.)

1. a physical weakling.

[US]S.F. News 22 Nov. 17: Offensively the Mechanics could be tougher [...] the problem seems to be springing loose Tom Ellis and Mert Dilly, a pair of ‘Feather Merchant’ left halfs [HDAS].
[US]P. Kendall Dict. Service Sl. n.p.: Feather merchant . . . an undersized Marine.
[US]L. Uris Battle Cry (1964) 5: This customer couldn’t weigh over a hundred and twenty-five pounds with a mortar on his back. A real feathermerchant.
[US](con. 1940s) M. Dibner Admiral (1968) 241: To think I’d see the day a lousy feather merchant jaygee’s got to help me put my shoes on.

2. a foolish, silly person.

[US]‘Bill O. Lading’ You Chirped a Chinful!! n.p.: Feather Merchant: Hot air artist.
[UK](con. WWII) W. Stevens Gunner 63: Some of the feather-merchants throw five- and ten-dollar bills.

3. a shirker.

[US]M. Shulman Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1959) 98: Yellow-livered, money-grubbing, fat-bellied feather merchants.

see under lightweight.

featherwood (n.) [play on peckerwood n.; ? she ‘flies in and out’ of the jail or is clad in metaphorical feminine feathers] (US prison)

1. a white prisoner’s wife or girlfriend.

[US]Other Side of the Wall: Prisoner’s Dict. July [Internet] Featherwood: A peckerwood’s woman.

2. a white female inmate.

[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 35: Featherwood Can be used as a derogatory or friendly term for a white female inmate depending on how it is used.

In phrases

feather up (v.) [the action of birds]

(US) to prepare to fight.

[UK]H.L. Davis Honey in the Horn 105: He shot at the bear in the dark, and when daylight came he found blood on the ground, so he feathered up and trailed it across the mountains.
[US]F.C. Brown North Carolina Folklore 1 539: Feather up to [...] To show fight. ‘He feathered up to them big fellers ecchin’ (itching) for a fight.’ .
in full feather (also in feather)

1. (US, also in full puff) in one’s best clothes.

[Ire]J. O’Keeffe Fontainebleau in Dramatic Works (1798) II 236: Such a pair of Mademoiselles as they are making themselves, to receive this French Colonel Epaulette, Egad here they come in full puff.
[UK]F. Pilon He Would Be A Soldier III i : caleb: Here I am, father, in full feather .
[UK]M. Scott Tom Cringle’s Log (1862) 193: Old Gasket [...] had figged himself out in full puff.
[UK]Era 28 Mar. 10/1: He was at this time in feather with plenty of tin.
[UK]Cheltenham Chron. 11 June 8/4: The brethren assembled [...] many of them were resplendent in their regalia and literally 'in full feather'.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]Royal Cornwall Gaz. 9 June 4/3: All the Royal Princes were there 'in full feather'.
[UK]Dundee Courier 12 Feb. 7/5: The professional burglar, the successful pickpocket, when ‘in feather’, prefer living in private lodgings.
[UK]Graphic 30 Jan. 130/2: On these generally convivial occasions, Watty, by reason of his office [butler], was of course always in full feather [F&H].

2. rich.

[UK]C.M. Westmacott Eng. Spy II 110: If they find their customers there in good feather and high repute, they [tradesmen] venture to cover another leaf in their ledger.
[UK]Leeds Intelligencer 11 Aug. 2/2: In all his transactions he contrives to get money [...] Mr Stocks is ever uppermost, - in the finest possible condition - in full feather.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.

3. in top condition, very cheerful.

[UK] ‘Memoirs of Ned Painter’ in Fancy I XVII 399: It is not likely to be soon forgotten; for the Fancy lads went down in full feather, but many of them were so cleanly plucked that they could scarcely find buoyant plumage enough to wing their way back to the metropolis.
[UK]E.K. Wood Dene Hollow III 26: And now things went on swimmingly. Captain Clanwaring, in feather as to cash, at least, temporarily, was the gayest of the gay.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]Shields Dly Gaz. 15 July 2/4: The children were starving [...] while the prisoner lived 'in full feather'.
[UK](con. 1910s) J.B. Booth Sporting Times 253: Your words carry me back to the days when I was in full feather.
in high feather

1. very cheerful.

[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 5: The Swells in high feather, and old Boney lagg’d.
[UK]Caledonian Mercury 1 May 2/2: Lord Combermere is in very high feather, very active.
[UK]Hereford Times 10 Aug. 4/2: He might, indeed, be said to be 'in high feather'.
[UK]Reading Mercury 13 Nov. 1/3: Very few of those who left Salt-hill 'in high feather,' were in at the take.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown’s School-Days (1896) 221: Martin leads the way in high feather; it is quite a new sensation to him, getting companions, and he finds it very pleasant.
N. London News 27 Sept. 3/4: The body militant of the isle were in high feather at the prospect of a visit from the soldier Prince.
[US]‘Mark Twain’ Tom Sawyer 24: Tom responded with jeers, and started off in high feather.
[US]‘Mark Twain’ Life on the Mississippi (1914) 185: I ascended to the pilot house in high feather.
[US]Nation LXIII 485/1: Senator Wolcott has just come back from Canton in high feather. In fact, everybody who comes back from Canton is in high feather.
[UK]G.B. Shaw John Bull’s Other Island Act IV: broadbent: [in the highest feather]. Not a bit. By George, Nora, it’s a tremendous thing to be able to enjoy oneself.
[UK]P. Marks Plastic Age 219: Hugh accepted the invitation and departed for the Parker summer cottage in high feather.

2. rich; thus out of feather, penniless.

[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 298: For altho’ in high feather, the odds will soon tame.
[UK]C. Dibdin Yngr Larks of Logic, Tom and Jerry I i: Clean’d out again, I came away, / Quite undismay’d, though out of feather – / At night I bolted to the play.
[UK]Thackeray Yellowplush Papers in Works III (1898) 276: As you are now in high feather, can you, dearest Algernon! lend me five hundred pounds?
[Aus]‘Banjo’ Paterson ‘The Downfall of Mulligan’s’ Three Elephant Power 60: They were in high feather, having just won a lot of money from a young Englishman at pigeon-shooting.
not a feather to fly with [orig. university use, where to be plucked was to have failed one’s examinations]

ruined, penniless.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 314: [note] A run of ill-luck had so far prevailed, that poor —— was completely cleaned out: He had not a feather left to fly with; and was compelled to borrow a bull to pay for a rattler to carry his unfortunate body home.
Chambers Edinburgh Jrnl 21 Mar. 78/3: Then they must often be in distress!— Very often; half of them havo not a feather to fly with.
[Aus][A. Harris] (con. 1820s) Settlers & Convicts 257: Without a penny in their pockets, or, to use their own phrase, ‘without a feather to fly with’.
Frank leslie’s New Family Mag. 2-3224: The Height of Assurance —Oflering to bet a man five pounds when the bailiffs are in your house, and you have not a ‘feather to fly with’.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 424/2: Regularly smashed up, not a feather to fly with, they’d knocked down all their tin lushing.
C. Sinclair Beatrice 447: He has not a feather to fly with.
S.B. Hemyng Women of Paris 244: ‘You are sure they cannot get the money to pay you out?’ asked Gobin. ‘Peste! they have not a feather to fly with. I shall take the beds from under them,’ replied the broker.
Accountant 20 528: Jerry-builders and other tradespeople [...] rarely reach the court until they have not a feather to fly with, or professedly not.
[UK]Morn. Post (London) 7 Dec. 8/6: Mr Hildred [...] said that the company had ‘not got a feather to fly with,’ not even a bird’s nest on the property.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 13 Dec. 36/4: My good man took it to himself, and turned on the minister, and didn’t leave him a feather to fly with hardly.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
E. Legge et al. King Edward in His true Colours 118: If one had believed the ‘World’ [...] the future King of England had not ‘a feather to fly with’.
A.G. Hales Maid o’ the Morn 108: You have not a feather to fly with, except what your factors wring from the goat-herds.
J.T. Lang I Remember 391: When Mr. Packer, snr., joined Smith’s [...] he hadn’t a feather to fly with. Now he walks out of their office with £173,000 worth of shareholders’ property.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 76: feather to fly with, not having a Broke, or lacking prospects or any excuse, from a ‘feather’ meaning a farthing. ANZ.
take a feather out of (v.) [the pulling out of a feather will make a bird jump]

(Irish) to confuse, to surprise, to astonish.

[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 153: Mrs Miriam Dandrade that sold me her old wraps and black underclothes in the Shelbourne hotel. [...] Didn’t take a feather out of her me handling them.
[Ire]Share Slanguage.