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A chicken
A cockerel (centre) surrounded by hens
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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English chiken (also as chike > English chick), from Old English ċicen, ċycen (chicken), of uncertain origin. Possibly from Proto-West Germanic *kiukīn (chicken), or alternatively from Proto-West Germanic *kukkīn, equivalent to cock +‎ -en.

Compare North Frisian schückling (chicken), Saterland Frisian Sjuuken (chicken), Dutch kuiken (chick, chicken), German Low German Küken (chick), whence German Küken (chick), (elevated, obsolete) German Küchlein (chick) and Old Norse kjúklingr (chicken).


chicken (countable and uncountable, plural chickens)

  1. (countable) A domesticated subspecies of red junglefowl (Gallus gallus domesticus), especially so-called when young.
    • 1997, Beverley Randell, Clive Harper, Chickens, Nelson Thornes, →ISBN, page 8:
      Some chickens lay eggs almost every day. [] Chickens are kept for their meat, too.
  2. (uncountable) The meat from this bird eaten as food.
    • 1887, Harriet W. Daly, Digging, Squatting, and Pioneering Life in the Northern Territory of South Australia, page 97:
      Amongst thee more harmless reptiles to be found were several lizards and iguanas. The natives killed these and used them for food. The flesh was not despised by explorers, and I was told it tasted exactly like chicken; but, however good it might have been, my courage was not suffcient to enable me to overcome my prejudice against tasting it.
    • 1995, Jean Paré, Chicken, Etc., Company's Coming Publishing Limited, →ISBN, page 7:
      Before cooking chicken, or other poultry, rinse with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.
  3. (archaic) The young of any bird; a chick.
    • 1934, Henry G. Lamond, An Aviary on the Plains, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, page 220:
      There they are – four ugly little chickens, a bit more than half-feathered, and all gaping mouths and bare bellies.
  4. (countable, slang) A coward.
    • 1842 December – 1844 July, Charles Dickens, chapter 28, in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1844, →OCLC:
      'Why, what a chicken you are! You are not afraid of being robbed; are you?' said Jonas.
    • 1925 July – 1926 May, A[rthur] Conan Doyle, “(please specify the chapter number)”, in The Land of Mist (eBook no. 0601351h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg Australia, published April 2019:
      Then he had an inspiration. "There is Roxton," said he. "He's not a chicken, but he is a useful man in a row. I think I could get him."
    • 2008, Lanakila Michael Achong, Haole Boy: The Adoption of Diversity, iUniverse, →ISBN, page 44:
      Usually, I had no problem approaching girls, but this one was different. I went home and berated myself for being such a chicken.
    • (More commonly used as an adjective with this sense; see below.)
  5. (countable, slang) A young or inexperienced person.
    • 1752, Jonathan Swift, “Stella's Birth-day, 1720”, in The Works of D. Jonathan Swift. In Nine Volumes. The Seventh Edition, to which is Prefixed, the Doctor's Life, with Remarks on His Writings, from the Earl of Orrery and Others, not to be Found in any Former Edition of His Works, 7th edition, volume II (Containing His Poetical Writings), Dublin, Edinburgh: printed; and [...] reprinted, for G. Hamilton & J. Balfour, & L. Hunter at Edinburgh; and A. Stalker, at Glasgow; and sold by them and other booksellers, →OCLC, page 99:
      Purſue your trade of ſcandal-picking,
      Your hints, that Stella is no chicken:
      Your innuendos, when you tell us,
      That Stella loves to talk with fellows; []
    • 1886, Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Lauriston Garden Mystery”, in A Study in Scarlet (Beeton's Christmas Annual; 28th season), London; New York, N.Y.: Ward Lock & Co., November 1887, OCLC 15800088; republished as A Study in Scarlet. A Detective Story, new edition, London: Ward, Lock, Bowden, and Co., 1892, OCLC 23246292, page 43:
      "This case will make a stir, sir," he remarked. "It beats anything I have seen, and I am no chicken."
  6. (countable, Polari) A young, attractive, slim man,[1] usually having little body hair; compare chickenhawk.
    • 1976 April 10, “Classified advertisement”, in Gay Community News, page 19:
      Europe's Favorite Gay Newspaper has something for you! Handsome studs, Tender Chicken, and lots of Male Nudes!
    • 1991 December 1, Ronald Smith, “Personal advertisement”, in Gay Community News, volume 19, number 20, page 14:
      I am a little white chicken, beautiful as sweet and young as beautiful and soft as young and gay as soft and innocent as gay. I dare you to write.
  7. (uncountable) The game of dare.
    1. A confrontational game in which the participants move toward each other at high speed (usually in automobiles); the player who turns first to avoid colliding into the other is the chicken (that is, the loser).
      Don't play chicken with a freight train; you're guaranteed to lose.
      • 2017, David Walliams [pseudonym; David Edward Williams], Bad Dad, London: HarperCollins Children’s Books, →ISBN:
        The Mini surged forward too. The cars were hurtling towards each other across the pitch. This was a dangerous game of chicken. Who would crumble first?
  8. A simple dance in which the movements of a chicken are imitated.
  9. (slang, US) A kilogram of cocaine.
    Synonyms: bird, brick
    • 2017 January 3, Migos (lyrics and music), “Call Casting”, in Culture[1], Track 3:
      Up early in the morning trappin' (Trap-trap)
      You can get 'em how you askin' (Ask)
      How many chickens? You can get 'em whichever way
      Nigga, trap turned Zaxby's (Zax)
    • 2019 May 20, “15 Chickens”‎[2]performed by The Norf ft. Rucci, 2Eleven, Ackrite, Nfant, and Lil Deuce:
  10. (obsolete) A small pewter pot used in a tavern.
    Coordinate term: hen
Derived terms[edit]
  • German: Chicken
  • Irish: sicín
  • Japanese: チキン (chikin)
  • Korean: 치킨 (chikin)
See also[edit]


chicken (comparative more chicken, superlative most chicken)

  1. (informal) Cowardly.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:cowardly, Thesaurus:afraid
    Why do you refuse to fight? Huh, I guess you're just too chicken.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

Shortening of chicken out.


chicken (third-person singular simple present chickens, present participle chickening, simple past and past participle chickened)

  1. (intransitive) To avoid a situation one is afraid of.
    • 1964, Max Shulman, Anyone Got a Match?, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, →OCLC, page 31:
      For the umpteenth time, I chickened.
    • 1968, Aidan Chambers, The Chicken Run: A Play for Young People, Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, →ISBN, act II, scene v, page 81:
      ABE: What are you chucking it for, then? You're running, aren't you? Running, cos you chickened.
      SLIM: All right, so I chickened.
    • 2014, Anne M. Brown, “James Day”, in Belonging: The Story of How James Became a Brown, Acacia Ridge, Qld.: Australian eBook Publisher, →ISBN:
      To reach the lower branches of the blackwood one had to swing Tarzan-like across a narrow gully choked with gorse and blackberries. [] [T]he challenge of the rope swing was definitely more in James' line. [] Even if he slipped and failed, or worse, chickened, they would be unlikely to judge too harshly.

Etymology 3[edit]

From chick +‎ -en (plural ending).



  1. (UK dialectal or obsolete) plural of chick
    • 1669, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London:
      The 21 or 22 day the Chicken are hatch'd; []

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Reuben, David R. (1969) chapter 8, in Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were too afraid to ask, New York: David McKay Company, Inc., published 1970, →LCCN, Homosexuals have their own language?, page 145:CHICKEN: young homosexual




From English chicken.


chicken (plural chickens)

  1. chicken