Now that they had got in the clutch, the others were on the verge of chickening 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."
: had I written extensively about the mechanics of chicken sex
[homosexual senses perhaps fr late 19th-century sailor term for a boy who takes a sailor's fancy and whom he calls his chicken]