Ruffle someone’s feathers

The idiom ruffle someone’s feathers has been in use for over one hundred years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom ruffle someone’s feathers, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To ruffle someone’s feathers means to annoy or irritate someone, to anger or upset someone. The idiom may be expressed as ruffle some feathers to mean that one is going to challenge authority or the status quo in order to effect change. The idiom is also expressed as getting one’s feathers ruffled, meaning one has been annoyed or irritated. The idiom to ruffle one’s feathers has been in use at least since the 1800s, if not longer. The idea behind the idiom is that a bird will ruffle its feathers when angry or aggressive. Related phrases are ruffles someone’s feathers, ruffled someone’s feathers, ruffling someone’s feathers.


“He was a very quiet person as long as you didn’t ruffle his feathers.” (The Daily Press)

If all it takes are a few follow-up questions during a mid-week press conference – not in the immediate aftermath of a close loss, mind you — to ruffle his feathers, then that thin skin will be exposed repeatedly. (USA Today)

A chicken appetizer – the Sticky Chicky – also ruffled my feathers a bit because of higher expectations. (The Journal Gazette)

I remember, when I was 17 and eating my heart out over some boy at school, it was my dad who sat me down for a ‘chat’ (my mum had already tried, but telling me “you’re a feminist until it comes to Mr X” hadn’t so much ruffled my feathers as ignited them and my claws were refusing to retract). (The Irish Examiner)

“As ranking member [Michael] Burgess pointed out, we are going to ruffle some feathers when we say that the brand companies cannot do this sort of conduct.” (Rutgers-Camden News Now)

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