Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

    Our world is home to thousands of different kinds of birds. No two bird species are the same. Each one has its own unique qualities – like its feathers!

    Feathers keep a bird warm and dry. Feathers also help it to fly. And they can be very colorful, making a woodpecker with its bright red feathers stand out in the woods on a cold, wintry day.

    And people have been wearing bird feathers on hats for hundreds of years. But feathers were not just worn for decoration – to improve a person's appearance. Hundreds of years ago it often meant something else. A feather could represent a person's standing, success or even, in some cases, a kill.

    Feathers have made their way into many common English expression. Today we talk about one: "To have a feather in your cap."
    羽毛这个词已经进入了很多常见的英语表达之中。今天我们常说的就有:取得引以为傲的成就(A feather in your cap)。

    A feather in your cap is something you are really happy about. The feather gives you bragging rights – a chance to tell the world about your success.
    引以为傲的成就是指让你为之异常喜悦的一些成就。这些成就给了你吹牛的资本(bragging rights),让你有机会向世界说出你的成功。

    A feather in your cap also gives you an upper hand, meaning it puts you in a better position. For example, on social media, having a million followers on Twitter can be considered a feather in your cap. Getting a pay raise or winning an award can both be feathers in your cap.
    引以为傲的成就也让你占据上风(upper hand),意思是它让你处于更好的位置。例如在社交媒体上,有100万推特粉丝可以被视为你引以为傲的成就。获得加薪或赢得奖励也都可以成为你引以为傲的成就。

    So it is something you can be proud of and something you can use in the future to get ahead.

    The Etymology Online website notes that the act of placing a feather in a hat or on your head has meant success in many cultures, "apparently independently."

    As an example, the site uses the early English travel writer Richard Hansard and his 1599 Description of Hungary:

    "It hath (has) been an antient (ancient) custom among them [Hungarians] that none should wear a fether (feather) but he who had killed a Turk ..."

    And some Native American tribes would give feathers to someone for a brave act.

    The saying "a feather in your cap" is widely used in conversation and even in some songs. Many American children sing these words without even knowing what they mean.

    Let's listen to part of a well-known song called Yankee Doodle.

    Yankee Doodle went to town riding on a pony;

    He stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.

    Yankee Doodle keep it up, Yankee Doodle dandy,

    Mind the music and the step, And with the girls be handy.

    (Traditional American song)

    This song dates back to the days of the American War of Independence. Some people say British soldiers sang it as a way of making fun of the opposing forces.

    "Doodle" was an 18th century British term for a stupid person. And "macaroni" meant a well-dressed person, someone who likes the finer things in life. So, saying "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni" meant that the colonists thought they could look good by simply placing feathers in their caps.

    By the way, we still use both "doodle" and "macaroni" today, except the meanings have changed completely. A "doodle" is a quickly made and simple artwork. And "macaroni" is a small noodle.
    顺便说一下,我们今天仍然在使用doodle 和 macaroni 这两个单词,但是意思已经完全变了。Doodle 是指快速制作的、简单的艺术品,而macaroni 是指一种小面条。

    One last note on this expression: The word "cap" can belong to anyone. In fact, you can use whatever descriptive words you need to explain who is wearing the cap. For example, winning an Oscar is surely a feather in the cap of any movie director. And getting accepted to a great university is a feather in the cap of any student.

    Hopefully, speaking English is now a feather in your cap!

    And that brings us to the end of another Words and Their Stories.

    Until next time, I'm Anna Matteo.