- 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.
- a cowardly or fearful person.
- a young or inexperienced person, especially a young girl.
- petty details or tasks.
- unnecessary discipline or regulations.
- 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.
- petty or trivial: a chicken regulation.
- obsessed with petty details, regulations, etc.: He's quitting this chicken outfit to become his own boss.
- chicken out, Slang.
- to refrain from doing something because of fear or cowardice: I chickened out when I saw how deep the water was.
- 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
- (intr, adverb) informal to fail to do something through fear or lack of conviction
- 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 and History for chicken out
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."
Idioms and Phrases with chicken out
Back out from fear, lose one's nerve, as in In the end I chickened out and took the easier route down the mountain. Chicken is a popular synonym for “cowardly,” a usage arising in the 1600s and 1700s but then apparently abandoned until the 20th century. [Slang; c. 1930]