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I've learned the meaning of chicken out from the dictionary, I am curious about its etymology. If any body knows, please explain it to me.

I have done my part of research by Googling "etymology for chicken out meaning". However, I didn't get any helpful results.

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See etymonline.com/index.php?term=chicken –  Mitch Dec 25 '12 at 17:31
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I'm actually not too fond of wordreference's definition. It's not so much a failure to do something as it is a decision to give up (based on fear or lack of conviction) either beforehand or in the middle of an attempt to do something. –  Jim Dec 25 '12 at 17:31

3 Answers 3

The OED says this verb chicken is slang of US origin with a first quotation from 1943 (I. Wolfert, Torpedo 8):

I just wanted to..make sure you weren't chickening out on me.

They say this is a revived form coming from a noun chicken for one who is as timorous or defenceless as a chicken, used at least as early as 1616, and cite Shakespeare (Cymbeline 1623):

Forthwith they flye Chickens, the way which they stopt Eagles.

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If you see a fight between two male chickens the loser will runaway with a low neck position is a sign of submission. Hence chickened out?

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Can you include a citation for this chicken action being the source of the expression, "chicken out"? –  Kristina Lopez Dec 19 '13 at 20:52

In the ancient times, army officers observed sacred chicken before going to a battle. The sacred chickens were given grain and if they ate it, the battle commenced, if they didn't, the armies withdrew from fight.

See the story of the Battle of Drepana for referece. "[...] some sources claim that Pulcher performed the inspection of the omens before battle, according to Roman religious tradition. The prescribed method was observing the feeding behaviour of the sacred chickens, on board for that purpose. If the chickens accepted the offered grain, then the Roman gods would be favourable to the battle. However, on that particular morning of 249 BC, the chickens refused to eat – a horrific omen." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Drepana)

Also see from 4:50 in this Academy Award winning education animation on birds by Disney https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al_Zxx6HUG0

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