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.
Verb phrases
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.

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 Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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World English Dictionary
chicken (ˈtʃɪkɪn)
1.  a domestic fowl bred for its flesh or eggs, esp a young one
2.  the flesh of such a bird used for food
3.  any of various similar birds, such as a prairie chicken
4.  slang a cowardly person
5.  slang a young inexperienced person
6.  slang an underage boy or girl regarded as a potential target for sexual abuse
7.  informal any of various, often dangerous, games or challenges in which the object is to make one's opponent lose his nerve
8.  count one's chickens before they are hatched to be overoptimistic in acting on expectations which are not yet fulfilled
9.  informal (Brit) like a headless chicken disorganized and uncontrolled
10.  slang no chicken, no spring chicken no longer young: she's no chicken
11.  slang easily scared; cowardly; timid
[Old English ciecen; related to Old Norse kjūklingr gosling, Middle Low German küken chicken]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. cycen "young fowl," which in M.E. came to mean "young chicken," then any chicken, from W.Gmc. *kiukinam, from base *keuk- (possibly root of cock, of echoic origin) + dim. suffix. Sense of "cowardly" is at least as old as 14c.; the v. meaning "to back down or fail through cowardice" is from 1943,
U.S. slang; as a game of danger to test courage, it is first recorded 1953. Chicken hawk "public person who advocates war but who declined significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime" is attested from at least 1988, Amer.Eng. Chicken feed "paltry sum of money" is from 1904. Chickweed (c.1440) was in O.E. cicene mete "chicken food."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


In addition to the idioms beginning with chicken, 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® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
Fowl should be used for stock in preference to chicken, as it is cheaper, and contains a larger amount of nutriment.
They say if you ever go to a poultry farm, you'll never eat chicken again.
Pull off as much of the yellow fat as possible from the chicken.
He sprayed them with chicken soup from a watering can, and festooned the shed
  with them.
Images for chicken
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