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hen

[hen]
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noun
  1. the female of the domestic fowl.
  2. the female of any bird, especially of a gallinaceous bird.
  3. Informal. an unpleasant, usually older woman, especially one considered to be a busybody or gossip.
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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 formshen·like, adjectivehen·nish, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for hens

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • No other noise could disturb us but the cackling of hens and the quacking of ducks.

    The Roof of France

    Matilda Betham-Edwards

  • We're all like a lot of hens in a backyard, scratching so many hours a day.

    Dust

    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

  • The hens were clucking to their downy chicks just out of the egg.

    The Village Watch-Tower

    (AKA Kate Douglas Riggs) Kate Douglas Wiggin

  • Hens and hounds picked and licked it up, and all flew up into the skies.

  • A sound had reached her, a sound which had nothing to do with the two puppies, or the hens, outside.

    The Law-Breakers

    Ridgwell Cullum


British Dictionary definitions for hens

hen

noun
  1. the female of any bird, esp the adult female of the domestic fowl
  2. the female of certain other animals, such as the lobster
  3. informal a woman regarded as gossipy or foolish
  4. Scot dialect a term of address (often affectionate), used to women and girls
  5. scarce as hen's teeth extremely rare
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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

Word Origin and History for hens

hen

n.

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with hens

hen

see mad as a hornet (wet hen); scarce as hen's teeth.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.