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90s Slang You Should Know


[hen] /hɛn/
the female of the domestic fowl.
the female of any bird, especially of a gallinaceous bird.
Informal. an unpleasant, usually older woman, especially one considered to be a busybody or gossip.
Origin of hen
before 1000; Middle English; Old English hen(n) (compare Old English hana cock); cognate with German Henne; akin to Latin canere to sing
Related forms
henlike, adjective
hennish, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for hens
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I suspect the jays carry the food off and hide it, as they certainly do corn when I put it out for the hens.

  • Mother won't let us hunt for any eggs to Portland—'cause we haven't any hens.

    Little Prudy Sophie May
  • The sudden sound disturbed the hens, roosting inside immediately below the roof, and they set up a shrill cackling of alarm.

    Neighbors Unknown Charles G. D. Roberts
  • Their silvery voices were answered by the cheerful cackling of the hens.

    Samuel Brohl & Company Victor Cherbuliez
  • So once more Reddy went to work at that little sliding door where the hens ran in and out during the day.

    Bowser The Hound Thornton W. Burgess
  • About fifty hens, four cockerels, and a number of ducks and geese.

    The Friendly Road (AKA David Grayson) Ray Stannard Baker
  • She peeped into the cart-shed, where the hens were scratching about among the loose straw.

    A Terrible Tomboy Angela Brazil
British Dictionary definitions for hens


the female of any bird, esp the adult female of the domestic fowl
the female of certain other animals, such as the lobster
(informal) a woman regarded as gossipy or foolish
(Scot, dialect) a term of address (often affectionate), used to women and girls
scarce as hen's teeth, extremely rare
Word Origin
Old English henn; related to Old High German henna, Old Frisian henne
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 hens



Old English henn, from West Germanic *khannjo (cf. Old Frisian henn, Middle Dutch henne, Old High German henna), fem. of *han(e)ni "male fowl, cock" (cf. Old English hana "cock"), literally "bird who sings (for sunrise)," from PIE root *kan- "to sing" (see chant).

The original masculine word survives in German (Hahn "cock"), Swedish, Danish, etc.; extension to "female of any bird species" is early 14c. in English. Hen as slang for "woman" dates from 1620s; hence hen party "gathering of women," first recorded 1887. To be mad as a wet hen is from 1823, but the figure was used to indicate other states:

Some, on the contrary, are viciously opposite to these, who act so tamely and so coldly, that when they ought to be angry, to thunder and lighten, as one may say, they are no fuller of Heat, than a wet Hen, as the Saying is; .... ["Life of Mr. Thomas Betterton," London, 1710]

Orth. Out upon you for a dastardly Fellow; you han't the Courage of a wet Hen. ["A Sermon Preached at St. Mary-le-Bow, March 27, 1704"]
As wanton as a wet hen is in "Scots Proverbs" (1813). Among Middle English proverbial expressions was nice as a nonne hen "over-refined, fastidiously wanton" (c.1500); to singen so hen in snowe "sing miserably," literally "sing like a hen in snow" (c.1200). Hen's teeth as a figure of scarceness is attested by 1838.

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



By, of, and for women: hen party/ hen talk


  1. A woman, esp a fussy or gossipy woman •This and other senses regarded as offensive by some women: That old hen made him sick
  2. young woman; chick (1626+)
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 hens
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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