Feather Merchant?

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

January 14th, 2003, 3:42 pm #2

Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 08:40:53 -0600
From: "Don Stauffer" <stauffer@usfamily.net> | This is Spam | Add to Address Book
To: "R.W.GAINES" <gyg1345@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: feather merchant

I suspect the term goes back to maybe civil war
days. And alludes to
contractors giving government fraudulant
supplies, subsitituting junk
for whatever they were supposed to be selling.
But why feather? They
WERE merchants. Were there contractors selling
mattresses? Or stuffing
things with feathers?

The term sort of implies crooked
vendors/merchants, but the exact
allusion to feathers seems to have been lost.
The term has sure stuck,

I have had service personnel refer to my group in
a good natured way as
feather merchants when we had meetings with one

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

January 14th, 2003, 3:53 pm #3

Info Request: Feather Merchant
by DickG DickG (no login)

From: MAJUSMCRET@aol.com
Date: Wed, 22 May 2002 05:48:21 EDT
Subject: MILINET: Resps "Info Request--"Feather Merchant"

22 May

MILINET: Resps "Info Request--"Feather Merchant"


Generally as you describe, and also here. http://4mermarine.com/USMC/dictionary.html I have also seen Marines make reference to the old Snuffy Smith comic strip of the '40s, which, apparently, also had some characters referred to as "feather merchants." -Dick Gaines




It equates to 'lightweight' or candy ass. My dad was a Pearl Harbor (Hickam Field) Vet and used it all the time. It associates someone who would only have enought strength to lift a box of feathers - I think. [RWH]




Pint sized people called Feather merchants first appeared in a cartoon strip featuring Snuffy Smith, which in turn had evolved from a cartoon strips featuring Barney Google. That would have been inn the late '30s or early '40s. It was not necessarily a pejorative term.





Major I'm sure you have had a good many responses to this one. But here's a couple of points in response to Hep. In the "Naval Terms Dictionary" by CAPT John V. Noel, Jr. USN (Ret) and CAPT Edward L. Beach, USN (Ret) published by the Naval Institute Press "feather merchant" is defined: "An uncomplimentary term of mild scorn, applied to those new to the service (especially reservists)."

In his book, "GYRENE: The World War II United States Marine" Captain Wilbur D. Jones, Jr. USNR (Ret), writes that a feather merchant is, "minimum weight or height, or small Marine." In the book, "War Slang" by Paul Dickson, there is a very extensive definition and some words on origins, page 154. Dickson's definition is, "A civilian; a lazy person. Here is an excerpt from the jacket copy of Max Shulman's 1944 classic of wartime humor, The Feather Merchant: 'Dan Miller is just a happy soldier going home on furlough.

But he is ambushed by an advance patrol of feather merchants as he gets off the train in Minneapolis.' Dickson goes on to credit the origin of the word to:

(1) Pre WWII hillbilly dwarfs in the Barney Google comic strip were considered "feather merchants" because they picked up large feathers and flew off, waving the feathers like wings."

(2) The phrase originated with the Navy. According to William B. Mellor, Jr. in Newsweek, Apr 23, 1945, the term comes from the cross-feathered insignia worn by Navy clerks- shoulder boards for officers and rating badges for petty officers.

He goes on to say the term has come to mean anyone with a soft billet. Of more meaning to me is the definition provided by WW II Marine Perry Pollins, 4th JASCO, Fox 2/7 and HqCo, 7th Marines (North China) in his new book, "Tales of a Feather Merchant".

He writes in his Prologue, "The label 'feather merchant ' was assigned to all recruits in boot camp." He goes on to write, "Marines with minimal know-how, usually small in size, extremely young, physically uncoordinated, incapable of responding to basic orders and totally undisciplined."

He concluded that a feather merchant became, "a disciplined and confident Marine not only able to deal with a ruthless and implacable enemy, but also one who could take the lessons learned in war and apply them to the art of future living."

Pollins book is available thru Merriam Press, 800-447-0313.

Best regards

Walt Ford




Not 100% sure, but I, too, was a 'feather-merchant'. My understanding is that the term is nautical in nature, and that it is applied light-weight people.

Its origin may be due to ships which are 'dead-headed' back without a cargo; they rode high in the water, and were referred to as 'feather-merchants', sort of a derogatory term, as the captain of the vessel in question was unable to get a cargo for a return trip...therefore, not pulling his full responsibility.

S/F, Gus




Posted on May 22, 2002, 9:16 PM
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* some truth in google and smith. Tom Dowlearn Tom Dowlearn on May 23, 2002, 1:34 AM

* Feather Merchant. Herschel(Jim)Cobb Herschel(Jim)Cobb on May 23, 2002, 3:34 PM

* More info. regarding the term "Feather Merchant". Greg Greg on May 23, 2002, 4:12 PM


Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

January 14th, 2003, 3:55 pm #4

More info. regarding the term "Feather Merchant"
by Greg Greg (no login)

I'm sure that this book could shed some light regarding the origin of this term.

Tales of a Feather Merchant
A World War II Allegory
Perry Pollins

Memoir 78

A Merriam Press Original Publication

CD-ROM Edition
(Acrobat PDF file)
ISBN 1-57638-274-5

Describing his tour of duty with the 1st Marine Division at their base camp on Pavuvu, the assault on Peleliu (Operation Stalemate), their return to Pavuvu for rest and further training, and the final battle of World War II, Okinawa, the book concludes with Perry's posting to North China and confrontation with Chinese Nationalist and Chinese Communist troops, displaying this military involvement that few are aware of.

The book consists of a number of vignettes that describe the adventures of a Marine that takes place on an isolated jungle island and in two of the most vicious battles fought in World War II. While it covers contact with the enemy, Perry describes their brutality, the climate, the topography, and the loneliness and isolation that the "raggedy ass Marines" suffered and how they withstood an adversary more vicious and unrelenting then those who confronted the Germans in Europe.

It addresses the marked differences between the fighting that took place in Europe and the vast Pacific Ocean, the major differences being the brutal and cruel behavior of the Japanese and the surroundings in which they fought. But the most oppressive of all was the severe isolation that these Marines were subjected to, and how they coped with it.

And finally, it discloses that Marines in the Pacific, and especially those in the 1st Marine Division, were never optimally equipped, and they were understaffed and abandoned until the war in Europe was won, a condition forced upon them by the governmentÂ’s declaration of "Europe First."

Perry was a member of the 4th JASCO (Joint Assault Signal Company) of the 1st Marine Division, which was comprised of Marine and Navy personnel radio operators, telephone linemen, and scout-snipers who supplied the Division with communications to control naval gunfire, close air support, and landing supplies, i.e. ammunition, food, water, vehicles and material.

The book contains photographs never before published.

Posted on May 23, 2002, 4:12 PM
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