[chik-uh n]



(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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for chicken

Contemporary Examples of chicken

Historical Examples of chicken

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
like a headless chicken British informal disorganized and uncontrolled
no chicken or no spring chicken slang no longer youngshe's no chicken


slang easily scared; cowardly; timid

Word Origin for chicken

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

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

Idioms and Phrases with chicken


In addition to the idioms beginning with chicken

  • chicken feed
  • chicken out
  • chickens come home to roost
  • chicken shit
  • chicken with its head cut off

also see:

  • count one's chickens
  • go to bed with (the chickens)
  • like a chicken with its head cut off
  • no spring chicken
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.