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[chik-uh n] /ˈtʃɪk ən/
a domestic fowl, Gallus domesticus, descended from various jungle fowl of southeastern Asia and developed in a number of breeds for its flesh, eggs, and feathers.
the young of this bird, especially when less than a year old.
the flesh of the chicken, especially of the young bird, used as food.
  1. a cowardly or fearful person.
  2. a young or inexperienced person, especially a young girl.
  3. petty details or tasks.
  4. unnecessary discipline or regulations.
  5. a young male homosexual, especially one sought as a sexual partner by older men.
a contest in which two cars approach each other at high speed down the center of a road, the object being to force one's opponent to veer away first.
a policy or strategy of challenging an opponent to risk a clash or yield:
diplomats playing chicken at the conference table.
(of food) containing, made from, or having the flavor of chicken:
chicken salad; chicken soup.
  1. cowardly.
  2. petty or trivial:
    a chicken regulation.
  3. obsessed with petty details, regulations, etc.:
    He's quitting this chicken outfit to become his own boss.
Verb phrases
chicken out, Slang.
  1. to refrain from doing something because of fear or cowardice:
    I chickened out when I saw how deep the water was.
  2. to renege or withdraw:
    You can't chicken out of this business deal now.
count one's chickens before they are hatched, to rely on a benefit that is still uncertain:
They were already spending in anticipation of their inheritance, counting their chickens before they were hatched.
Origin of chicken
before 950; 1605-15 for def 4a; 1940-45 for def 6; Middle English chiken, Old English cīcen; akin to Middle Dutch kieken (Dutch kuiken), Low German küken Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for chicken


a domestic fowl bred for its flesh or eggs, esp a young one
the flesh of such a bird used for food
any of various similar birds, such as a prairie chicken
(slang) a cowardly person
(slang) a young inexperienced person
(slang) an underage boy or girl regarded as a potential target for sexual abuse
(informal) any of various, often dangerous, games or challenges in which the object is to make one's opponent lose his nerve
count one's chickens before they are hatched, to be overoptimistic in acting on expectations which are not yet fulfilled
(Brit, informal) like a headless chicken, disorganized and uncontrolled
(slang) no chicken, no spring chicken, no longer young: she's no chicken
(slang) easily scared; cowardly; timid
Word Origin
Old English ciecen; related to Old Norse kjūklingr gosling, Middle Low German küken chicken
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for chicken

Old English cicen "young fowl," which in Middle English came to mean "young chicken," then any chicken, from West Germanic *kiukinam (cf. Middle Dutch kiekijen, Dutch kieken, Old Norse kjuklingr, Swedish kyckling, German Küken "chicken"), from root *keuk- (echoic of the bird's sound and possibly also the root of cock (n.1)) + diminutive suffixes.

Adjective sense of "cowardly" is at least as old as 14c. (cf. hen-herte "a chicken-hearted person," mid-15c.). As the name of a game of danger to test courage, it is first recorded 1953. Chicken feed "paltry sum of money" is by 1897, American English slang; literal use (it is made from the from lowest quality of grain) by 1834. Chicken lobster "young lobster," is from c.1960s, American English, apparently from chicken in its sense of "young."


"to back down or fail through cowardice," 1943, U.S. slang, from chicken (n.), almost always with out (adv.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for chicken



  1. : He seems like a chicken guy
  2. chicken-shit


: had I written extensively about the mechanics of chicken sex


  1. chick (1711+)
  2. An adolescent boy regarded as a sexual object for an adult homosexual; catamite; punk (1940s+ Homosexuals)
  3. A coward; an overly timid person; sissy: Don't be a chicken; dive right in (1707+)
  4. A trial of valor in which two persons drive cars at each other down the middle of a road, the first to swerve aside being designated ''chicken'' (1950s+ Hot rodders)
  5. The eagle worn as insignia of rank by an Army colonel (1920s+ Army)
  6. chicken-shit (1940s+)
  7. The victim of a robbery or swindle; mark, sucker (1950s+ Underworld)

Related Terms


[homosexual senses perhaps fr late 19th-century sailor term for a boy who takes a sailor's fancy and whom he calls his chicken]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with chicken
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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