horse feathers (1925 February 25)

Michael Quinion wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Fri Jan 28 21:46:18 UTC 2011

Garson O'Toole wrote:

> Here is a curious 1904 cite that does not seem to fit the modern meaning.
> Cite: 1904, A Later Pepys: the Correspondence of Sir William Weller
> Pepys: Volume 1, List of items: For the Funeral of the Late William
> Franks Esquire: August 15th 1797, Page 238, John Lane, London and New
> York. (Google Books full view)
> Use of Rich Lidd of Ostrich Feathers and 6 Horse feathers

These are presumably the common decorations at this period, usually dyed
black and mounted either on a hearse on on the heads of the horses that
pulled it. They were often called "ostrich plumes" but I've not before
come across literal horse feathers. This is a description from much later:

For the first amount the mourners enjoy all the splendors possible to the
occasion -- a hearse draped with velvet and drawn by four horses, each
decked with ostrich-plumes and led by a groom clothed in a mourning
[Lippincott's Magazine, 1877]

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words

The American Dialect Society -

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