General English



  • The common domestic fowl, Gallus gallus, bred for its meat and eggs. Generally known as poultry.


  • noun a coward. In this sense the word has been in use for several centuries, although the children’s taunt or exclamation was an Americanism of the early 1950s.
  • noun a game in which young people dare one another to attempt something dangerous (e.g. to stand in the path of an oncoming train or car); the chicken, or first to withdraw, is the loser. When motor vehicle races are involved chicken run is the usual phrase.


  • noun a common farm bird that is eaten as food and produces the eggs that are most commonly used in cooking

Origin & History of “chicken”

Chicken is a widespread Germanic word (Dutch has kuiken, for instance, and Danish kylling), whose ancestor has been reconstructed as *kiukīnam. this was formed, with a diminutive suffix, on a base *keuk-, which some have claimed is a variant of a base which lies behind cock; if that is so, a chicken would amount etymologically to a ‘little cock’ (and historically the term has been applied to young fowl, although nowadays it tends to be the general word, regardless of age). Chick is a 14th-century abbreviation. The modern adjectival sense ‘scared’ is a 20th-century revival of a 17th- and 18th-century noun sense ‘coward’, based no doubt on chicken-hearted.