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  #1  
Old 07-16-2009, 12:12 PM
Fotheringay-Phipps Fotheringay-Phipps is offline
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Why are Cowards Chickens?

In my experience, chickens are not particularly chicken. There seem to be a lot of better choices (e.g. groundhogs, those ultimate wimps).
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  #2  
Old 07-16-2009, 12:16 PM
otorophile otorophile is offline
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I'm not sure, but the online etymology dictionary says the usage dates back to at least the 14th century. Maybe groundhogs weren't known back then?
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  #3  
Old 07-16-2009, 12:32 PM
Speaker for the Dead Speaker for the Dead is offline
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Maybe it's because (from my experience with chickens on the farm), they tend to squawk and make a big to-do when scared and running, rather than just fleeing.

That said, if it dates to the 1300s,then they wouldn't be talking about farm chickens as we know them...
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  #4  
Old 07-16-2009, 01:34 PM
SmashTheState SmashTheState is offline
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An interesting, somewhat relevent note: my family coat of arms has three chickens on it. I can't imagine my clan would have marched to battle under a banner of cowardice, so chickens were not universally regarded as cowardly.
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  #5  
Old 07-16-2009, 01:42 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmashTheState View Post
An interesting, somewhat relevent note: my family coat of arms has three chickens on it. I can't imagine my clan would have marched to battle under a banner of cowardice, so chickens were not universally regarded as cowardly.
They still aren't by any stretch:

http://www.sc.edu/usc/gamecock.html
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  #6  
Old 07-16-2009, 02:07 PM
cjepson cjepson is offline
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I think "scaredy cat" is a much more appropriate term. If you've ever seen how feral cats typically behave, you'll know what I mean.
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  #7  
Old 07-16-2009, 03:00 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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I've heard that it dates back to Roman times, since the Latin words for "Frenchman" and "Chicken" are almost identical. Originally, the Romans were calling cowards Frenchmen, but it ended up getting mistranslated.

Of course, this is also the sort of factoid that Latin teachers like to make up to bamboozle their students, so take with a grain of sal.
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  #8  
Old 07-16-2009, 04:21 PM
ricksummon ricksummon is online now
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It definitely goes back to Roman times, since Biff Tannen's distant Roman ancestor called Marty a chicken in Back To The Future: The Animated Series. It's also a little-known fact that the phrase "Why don't you make like a tree and leaf" was invented then, but no Tannen since then has ever been able to get the hang of it.
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  #9  
Old 07-16-2009, 04:26 PM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ricksummon View Post
It definitely goes back to Roman times, since Biff Tannen's distant Roman ancestor called Marty a chicken in Back To The Future: The Animated Series. It's also a little-known fact that the phrase "Why don't you make like a tree and leaf" was invented then, but no Tannen since then has ever been able to get the hang of it.
Well, I can't touch that. It's settled.
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  #10  
Old 07-16-2009, 06:12 PM
glowacks glowacks is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
I've heard that it dates back to Roman times, since the Latin words for "Frenchman" and "Chicken" are almost identical. Originally, the Romans were calling cowards Frenchmen, but it ended up getting mistranslated.

Of course, this is also the sort of factoid that Latin teachers like to make up to bamboozle their students, so take with a grain of sal.
Gallus is in fact the Latin would for Chicken (Rooster to be more specific) and also the name of the residents of Gaul, much of which is now France. So the "factoid" is at least true in that sense. Whether Romans were trying to calling cowards Frenchmen is something else, and smells too much of the latter day "cheese eating surrender monkey" stereotype for me to think it's true.
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  #11  
Old 07-16-2009, 06:51 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by otorophile View Post
I'm not sure, but the online etymology dictionary says the usage dates back to at least the 14th century. Maybe groundhogs weren't known back then?
I take issue with that, although the author of that dictionary is pretty good most of the time.

My Chambers Dictionary of Etymology cites it this way:
Quote:
The word was applied in a disparaging sense in Middle English as early as 1330 and had the meaning of cowardly person in the phrase cherles chekyn probably before 1400, in Morte Arthur.
But, the OED cites as the first usage as cowardly in Shakespeare

Quote:
Originally Posted by OED
1611 SHAKES. Cymb. V. iii. 42 Forthwith they flye Chickens, the way which they stopt [Globe ed. stoop'd] Eagles. 1633 T. STAFFORD Pac. Hib. xix. (1821) 199 Not finding the Defendants to be Chikins, to be afraid of every cloud or kite. 1707 FARQUHAR Beaux' Strat. IV. iii. 54 Gib. You assure me that Scrub is a Coward. Bou. A Chicken, as the saying is. 1936 Amer. Speech XI. 279/2 Chicken, a timid soul; a sissy. 1941 Life 15 Dec. 89 Gets chicken. 1945 Amer. Speech XX. 147/2 A person is ‘chicken’ when he abides too closely by army rules and regulations, or when he misuses or abuses authority, especially in minor or petty matters. 1952 S. ELLIN
.

Notice that the cowardly meaning is around in English between 1600-early 1700, and then isn't used much until the 20th century.
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  #12  
Old 07-16-2009, 06:57 PM
Dr. Drake Dr. Drake is offline
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Remember that "chicken" was originally applied only to the young of the species (modern "chick"). Perhaps they're not saying "domestic fowl = coward" but "cowardly, like a very young thing."
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  #13  
Old 07-16-2009, 07:09 PM
Patty O'Furniture Patty O'Furniture is offline
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In some Asian countries, cowards are called rabbits.
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  #14  
Old 07-16-2009, 08:08 PM
SweetLucy SweetLucy is offline
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Originally Posted by SmashTheState View Post
An interesting, somewhat relevent note: my family coat of arms has three chickens on it. I can't imagine my clan would have marched to battle under a banner of cowardice, so chickens were not universally regarded as cowardly.
Brave Sir Robin
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  #15  
Old 07-16-2009, 09:32 PM
Hypnagogic Jerk Hypnagogic Jerk is offline
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Originally Posted by glowacks View Post
Gallus is in fact the Latin would for Chicken (Rooster to be more specific) and also the name of the residents of Gaul, much of which is now France. So the "factoid" is at least true in that sense. Whether Romans were trying to calling cowards Frenchmen is something else, and smells too much of the latter day "cheese eating surrender monkey" stereotype for me to think it's true.
Interestingly, the rooster is a national symbol of France.
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  #16  
Old 07-17-2009, 04:00 AM
Nametag Nametag is online now
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I haven't seen any evidence that Romans called cowards anything related to chickens; if they did, I assume they'd have said "pullus" rather than "gallus"; roosters are mean little f*ckers. Also, given that the Gauls sacked Rome in 290 BC, and gave Julius Caesar a hell of a time in 58 BC, I doubt that the Romans ever called them cowards (although they were considered a bit less fearsome than the Germani and the Helvetii). Not that the Gauls could be considered "Frenchmen" anyway -- that term only became meaningful hundreds of years later, after the Franks conquered northern Gaul.
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  #17  
Old 07-17-2009, 07:46 AM
Lumpy Lumpy is offline
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For that matter, why should a "yellow belly" connote cowardice? (Band name: Yellow-Bellied Chicken).
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  #18  
Old 07-17-2009, 08:01 AM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Originally Posted by Hypnagogic Jerk View Post
Interestingly, the rooster is a national symbol of France.
As a famous French comedian quipped, "because it's the only bird that'll sing when he's knee deep in shite" .

As for why chicken are a symbol for cowardice, I'd say it's because they're really, really bothersome to catch, and I surmise they were even more so in the days before coops and wire fences. The little buggers are fast.
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  #19  
Old 07-17-2009, 08:06 AM
palindromemordnilap palindromemordnilap is offline
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The bawk-bawk of the chicken combined with the tucked arm flapping is an irresistible challenge to young males faced with a stupid dare or unwise fight.

Next time you want to bait someone by questioning their courage, try making the sound of a rabbit or groundhog, and see how that goes over.
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  #20  
Old 07-17-2009, 08:27 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetLucy View Post
Brave Sir Robin
Now go change your armor! http://www.dailyllama.com/spam/games...lect_robin.jpg
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  #21  
Old 07-17-2009, 08:28 AM
SmashTheState SmashTheState is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
For that matter, why should a "yellow belly" connote cowardice? (Band name: Yellow-Bellied Chicken).
A dog will crawl on its belly to show submissiveness to another dog. Presumably crawling in the dirt leaves a yellow stain on the belly.
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  #22  
Old 07-17-2009, 08:33 AM
SmashTheState SmashTheState is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
My coat of arms, resplendent with chickens. Note the motto: "Ne Lis," latin for "no strife."
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  #23  
Old 07-17-2009, 10:18 AM
Khadaji Khadaji is offline
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I had always assumed that yellow belly had something to do with urinating out of fear, but I don't know that for sure. For what it's worth, the Word Detective said this about yellow.
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  #24  
Old 07-17-2009, 10:34 AM
633squadron 633squadron is offline
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Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
In my experience, chickens are not particularly chicken. There seem to be a lot of better choices (e.g. groundhogs, those ultimate wimps).
I agree. "Chicken" should mean stupid. Or mebbe that should be reserved for "cow".
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  #25  
Old 07-17-2009, 11:52 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Sheep are more stupid than cows, though.

And I've always found it greatly amusing that the University of Delaware has a literal yellow-bellied chicken as a mascot.
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  #26  
Old 07-17-2009, 03:00 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is online now
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Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
For that matter, why should a "yellow belly" connote cowardice? (Band name: Yellow-Bellied Chicken).
Staff Report by Dex: What's the origin of "yellow-bellied"?
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  #27  
Old 07-17-2009, 03:26 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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Originally Posted by SmashTheState View Post
My coat of arms, resplendent with chickens. Note the motto: "Ne Lis," latin for "no strife."
Those aren't chickens. They're cocks.
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  #28  
Old 07-17-2009, 06:30 PM
Zebra Zebra is online now
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Originally Posted by SmashTheState View Post
My coat of arms, resplendent with chickens. Note the motto: "Ne Lis," latin for "no strife."

Well probably one of your ancestors ran from a fight and that's how the chicken got the bad name.


(just kidding, but it may be something like that)
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  #29  
Old 07-19-2009, 12:18 PM
Race Harley Race Harley is offline
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Originally Posted by ricksummon View Post
It definitely goes back to Roman times, since Biff Tannen's distant Roman ancestor called Marty a chicken in Back To The Future: The Animated Series. It's also a little-known fact that the phrase "Why don't you make like a tree and leaf" was invented then, but no Tannen since then has ever been able to get the hang of it.
Did you use a cartoon as a reference?
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  #30  
Old 07-19-2009, 12:26 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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Did you use a cartoon as a reference?
This is an example of what these hu-mans call "humor". It is a....difficult concept.
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  #31  
Old 07-19-2009, 12:32 PM
Race Harley Race Harley is offline
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Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
This is an example of what these hu-mans call "humor". It is a....difficult concept.
Oh OK. I couldn't see the tongue in cheek.
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  #32  
Old 07-19-2009, 03:01 PM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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I think it's proof that Intelligent Design even reaches linguistics:


The whole thing was to set up the Bluth family's impressions.
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  #33  
Old 07-19-2009, 03:32 PM
furubafan74 furubafan74 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Sheep are more stupid than cows, though.
Domestic turkeys are stupider than sheep. My father had some that drowned because instead of going inside of their coop when it rained, they stared up at the sky. Water ran down their noses and filled their lungs, drowning them.
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  #34  
Old 07-19-2009, 03:41 PM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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Originally Posted by furubafan74 View Post
Domestic turkeys are stupider than sheep. My father had some that drowned because instead of going inside of their coop when it rained, they stared up at the sky. Water ran down their noses and filled their lungs, drowning them.
Snopes disagrees:

Quote:
Claim: Domesticated turkeys are so lacking in intelligence that they will look up at falling rain until they drown.
Status: FALSE

... see Snopes page for full debunking.
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  #35  
Old 07-19-2009, 07:02 PM
Malleus, Incus, Stapes! Malleus, Incus, Stapes! is offline
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I guess furubafan74's dad's turkeys didn't read Snopes. Imagine the tragedy that could have been prevented if only they knew where to verify the barnyard rumors they heard...
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  #36  
Old 07-19-2009, 07:58 PM
MOIDALIZE MOIDALIZE is offline
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Hey furubafan74, why don't you make like a drum and take a hike!
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  #37  
Old 07-19-2009, 08:46 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MOIDALIZE View Post
Hey furubafan74, why don't you make like a drum and take a hike!
MOIDAZIZE We're in General Questions. I'm not sure what you're trying to do, but it doesn't have a place in GQ.

samclem Moderator, General Questions
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  #38  
Old 07-20-2009, 01:00 AM
njtt njtt is online now
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if it dates to the 1300s,then they wouldn't be talking about farm chickens as we know them.
Why not? People certainly had farms back then, and according to Wikipedia, chickens were first domesticated "over 10,000 years ago" (in Vietnam apparently), and were introduced into Europe in the 5th century BCE (and I think that is probably a latest possible date, not an earliest).

For what it is worth, when growing up in England in the 60s and 70s I do not think I ever heard "chicken" used to mean "coward" except in American movies and TV shows. If it is used in Britain now, it is probably because it has been picked up from these American sources. It may well be that it goes back much further in English, but perhaps it was a rare or moribund idiom that somehow got revived in America some time in the 19th or 20th century.
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  #39  
Old 07-20-2009, 02:07 AM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Originally Posted by njtt View Post
For what it is worth, when growing up in England in the 60s and 70s I do not think I ever heard "chicken" used to mean "coward" except in American movies and TV shows. If it is used in Britain now, it is probably because it has been picked up from these American sources.
It's just a flesh wound.

(1975, by the way)
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  #40  
Old 07-20-2009, 02:11 AM
njtt njtt is online now
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Ok so it made its way into British movies a bit earlier than I thought. That doesn't prove it didn't come in form America though.
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  #41  
Old 07-20-2009, 02:02 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Domestic turkeys are stupider than sheep.
And chickens, being further removed from their wild form, are probably stupider yet. I do have to grant, at least, that there's no documented case of a sheep living for years after decapitation.
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  #42  
Old 07-20-2009, 03:00 PM
Speaker for the Dead Speaker for the Dead is offline
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
MOIDAZIZE We're in General Questions. I'm not sure what you're trying to do, but it doesn't have a place in GQ.

samclem Moderator, General Questions
I think he was making a joke based on the earlier reference to Back to the Future, where Biff tells Marty to "make like a tree and get out of here."
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  #43  
Old 07-20-2009, 07:33 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Originally Posted by Speaker for the Dead View Post
I think he was making a joke based on the earlier reference to Back to the Future, where Biff tells Marty to "make like a tree and get out of here."
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  #44  
Old 07-22-2009, 01:17 AM
EvilTOJ EvilTOJ is offline
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Yea samclem, so make like a banana and get the flock outta here!
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  #45  
Old 07-22-2009, 01:35 AM
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somebody connect it to white feathers or the 4 feathers 'cause i'm too lazy to do it.
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  #46  
Old 07-22-2009, 03:13 AM
The Seventh Deadly Finn The Seventh Deadly Finn is offline
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According to this Middle English dictionary, "chicken" meant a young fowl or the young of any bird.

We also see the usage "cherles chekyn," (as noted by samclem above) meaning "son of a churl," and "fendes chike," meaning "the devil's offspring." (I'm guessing "fende" became our "fiend.")

So that's several usages that imply, at least to my fevered brain, that "chick" or "chicken," meaning "young fowl," could be used to connote being something's baby, rather than being a member of a particular species. (Think of the modern usage "when I was a pup.")

From there, it's not that much of a stretch to imagine that when a Middle English speaker called you "chicken," he was calling you a tender, inexperienced baby-- the sort who's not much good in a fight.

I'm not a linguist or anything, but this would make sense to me.
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