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When I was small and started to study English, I had pictures labelled cock, hen and chicken.

Now when I search the net for pictures for showing to my children, I see the same pictures, but this time they are labelled rooster, chicken and chick.

Do these changes belong to time, to American vs British usage differences, or to something else?

What names should I use when showing pictures to my children?

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6  
Are you Jerry Stiller? Welcome to ELU, sir. –  RegDwigнt Dec 2 '12 at 18:31
    
@RegDwighт, Geez, it's that kind of day! Great video! –  Kristina Lopez Dec 2 '12 at 18:42
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Well for one thing If you have “safe search” on, you probably will not be able to find pictures of anything labelled cocks. Some of the blockers will block on the word, not the content. That would account for why you can’t find those pictures any longer. –  tchrist Dec 2 '12 at 19:08
    
I had the same thing in mind when i read tchrist's comment, children may google the words you learn them some day and you would not want them to get a screen full of cock's... –  MrMichael Dec 3 '12 at 13:41
    
On vacation in France a few years ago, I happened into a gift shop selling some plates adorned with (one of) the national symbols: le Coq gaulois. Most of the shelf tags in the store were bilingual, and these were proudly lettered "Coq / Cock". I felt it was my duty to inform the sweet elderly proprietress that her English-speaking customers were more likely to be amused than enlightened by that label; at her request, I wrote out "Coq / Rooster" in my most-legible printing... –  MT_Head Feb 6 at 7:27

5 Answers 5

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Think of it like this...

Human>>>>>>Man or Woman>>>>>Child (boy or girl)

Chicken>>>>>Rooster or Hen>>>>>Chick (male:cockerel or female: pullet)

Cock is another term for rooster. Not hen.

This link offers a succinct explanation as well.

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Hen <-> Rooster (switch them around for the analogy to be consistent) –  michael_n Dec 2 '12 at 18:37
    
Yep. Got it. Thanks. –  tylerharms Dec 2 '12 at 18:43
    
So, when I was taught to use "chicken" for a hen baby, it was simply a mistake? –  Gangnus Dec 2 '12 at 21:07
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Yes it was. Chicken is the name of the species of bird that includes hens and roosters. A chick is a baby chicken. To be more specific, a "pullet" is a female chick and a "cockerel" is a male chick. I will include this in my answer. –  tylerharms Dec 2 '12 at 21:13
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This answer would be improved by the addition of source citations. It is also hard to read because of the arrow signs and lack of space. Maybe do either as a table or rewrite in complete sentences. –  MετάEd Dec 2 '12 at 21:55

Since cock is American slang for male genitalia, it’s fallen out of use except when specifically referring to cock fighting. Chicken is genderless, hen is the female, rooster is male, and chick refers to the younglings (of either sex).

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Using cock as an informal synonym for penis is not an Americanism, as its use for this antedates the Mayflower. The OED has this to say (this is just the first two citations): 20. = Penis: Ger. hahn, hähnchen. (The current name among the people, but, pudoris causa, not admissible in polite speech or literature; in scientific language the Latin is used. In origin perhaps intimately connected with sense 12.) §1618 N. Field Amends for Ladies 1, ― Oh man what art thou? When thy cock is up? §1714 Cabinet of Love, ― View my sore cock, his tender wounded head. –  tchrist Dec 2 '12 at 18:50
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@tchrist: It may not be American in origin, but that doesn't mean it's not more common in American usage than elsewhere. If you go by the origin story, then as 1618 (presumably) predates the OPs childhood, it wouldn't explain why names have changed in children's books since then. –  ShreevatsaR Dec 2 '12 at 19:01
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@ShreevatsaR What proof do you have to offer of your hypothesis that this bit of general English has of late been reduced to a mere Americanism? I’m pretty sure that the OED’s statement that “cock is the current name among the people” still holds true for native speakers everywhere. Yes, you can get some nuance between cock and dick, or regional difference between wiener and willy, but cock is in my experience universal across Anglophonia, including America, Canada, England, Wales, Australia, and New Zealand — all of which I can personally vouch for from having been there. –  tchrist Dec 2 '12 at 19:15
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@tchrist to my American ears, it just sounds wrong to use the term other than as slang, unless you are intentionally looking for a double meaning. (Which you are not when reading bedtime stories to children.) In American English, for example, we don't use phrases like "cockup" (to screw up, botch), so when you use the word "cock" (in American English), you should expect giggles or horrified stares, regardless of context. Whether that was true in 1714, I can't say -- but again, isn't really to the OP's question. (And fwiw, I'm not a prude, and I did grow up on a farm (with chickens)). –  michael_n Dec 2 '12 at 19:27
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We still have & occasionally use idioms like the cock of the walk (British old-fashioned) a man who acts as if he is more fashionable or important than other people: "He acts like the cock of the walk around the office". Then there's the adjective cocky 1: boldly or brashly self-confident "a cocky young actor." This M-W definition also includes the currently used transitive verb "to cock" (one's ears, head, gun, hat brim, or arm [quarterback style]). –  user21497 Dec 2 '12 at 22:06

Cock is short for cockerel. When a cockerel is part of a group of hens (roost) to encourage egg laying, it's called a rooster. I'd say rooster is more common in American English and cockerel (cock) is British English.

Edit: Here in Vietnam, cocks are sometimes pets like dogs. I see Vietnamese take their cocks to the park or the riverside. They may spar them, not full on cock fights (though this may be more common than seen) so they are really cocks not roosters, as they lack a roost.

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This seems like a fine answer to me. If you can add a citation it would be a great one. –  virmaior Feb 6 at 7:24
    
A Google Ngram may be instructive, although it needs interpretation; but it does show a difference in usage of both cock and rooster in AmE and BrE. You can probably find a dictionary entry to back up rooster as "roosting cockerel". –  Andrew Leach Feb 6 at 8:12
    
+1. I like logic explanations, too. Maybe they are not real in linguistics, but even so they are excellent as a memo rule. –  Gangnus Feb 6 at 8:21
    
How could they have no roost - roost is merely a place for sleeping? –  Gangnus Feb 6 at 8:22
    
@Gangnus Rooster may also mean "one who causes to roost" as well as "one who roosts." –  Andrew Leach Feb 6 at 8:35

“Cock” is the Old English word for the male domestic fowl, and it is still the common word here in Britain. “Rooster” is basically a prudish euphemism, rare in this country, but it has become the usual word for this fowl in North America. “Cock” as a colloquial word for the male genitalia is as common here as it is in America. It is just that we are not too squeamish to use the same word in two meanings.

"Chicken" includes both sexes. "Cock" is (as mentioned) the male. "Hen" is the female. "Chick" is the baby of either sex.

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OK, thank you. And what about hen/chicken and chicken/chick? Is the old sequence cock-hen-chicken correct nowadays in British English? –  Gangnus Feb 23 at 15:03
    
"Chicken" includes both sexes. "Cock" is the male. "Hen" is the female. "Chick" is the baby of either sex. –  fdb Feb 23 at 15:15
    
Could you, please put this as an answer. Really, I am fascinated - not a single person managed to answer the question, either correctly or not. You all are answering some your own thoughts. –  Gangnus Feb 23 at 15:35
    
Which part of your question do you think has not been anscwered? –  fdb Feb 23 at 15:46
    
I was asking, what are the equivalents for the old cock-hen-chicken? And many "answers" don't even try to be the full ones. I had to ask each of you to put here the whole answer. Now you have it for Br. En., as I understand. So, +1 and thank you. Sorry, I won't move the answer check, even if I am interested in Br.En. more, for you are not the first. –  Gangnus Feb 23 at 21:36

There is no difference between rooster and cock. "Cock" is also known as "rooster". An adult female chicken is known as "Hen".

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