Does "spring chicken" indicate a negative/critical connotation?

Here out in the middle of this raging storm and you're no spring chicken. I feel awful putting you through all this trouble.

  • It means, basically, "young", and if it were used without "no" would probably not have a negative connotation. However it's almost always used in the expression "no spring chicken", suggesting that the person being described can no longer be considered "young" but rather is getting a little "long in the tooth", and this sense is generally negative (without being exceedingly so). – Hot Licks Mar 19 '17 at 12:54
  • It's neither a compliment nor negative as such. It's just a gentle way to state a fact. There's certainly no criticism involved (except to point out a behavior that's unbecoming one's advanced age, as in your example). – michael.hor257k Mar 19 '17 at 12:58
  • It's a negative polarity item. 'They're no ...' (Pele / Einstein / Pavarotti / Mother Theresa ...) usually involves a comparison with a superior model. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 '17 at 16:40

For poultry farmers spring chicken is, I'm sure, merely a technical term; but in everyday use the term is used only in the negative (no spring chicken, not a spring chicken any more) as a euphemism for "too old to endure" or "sustain" some physically taxing situation.

  • You mean it is an euphemism and doesn't show any unpleasant intention toward the listeners? – Daisy White Mar 19 '17 at 3:53
  • @Daisy There is no negativity towards the listener; it’s towards the person being described as no (longer a) spring chicken. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 19 '17 at 8:18
  • @Daisy It can be used disparagingly, but it can be sympathetic, too, as in the example in your question. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 19 '17 at 11:41
  • Thank you for your patient reply. So can it be used in the conversation of two elderly? – Daisy White Mar 19 '17 at 15:44

The expression is generally used with a negative (mildly offensive) connotation, especially when it refers to a woman:

  • No longer young • Often said of a woman:
    She looks great, but she's no spring chicken (1910+).


Spring chicken :

  • "We find the expression 'now past a chicken,' meaning 'no longer young,' recorded as early as 1711 by Steele in 'The Spectator': 'You ought to consider you are now past a chicken; this Humour, which was well enough in a Girl, is insufferable in one of your Motherly Character.'

  • 'No spring chicken,' an exaggeration of the phrase, is first recorded in America in 1906." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

The figurative meaning comes from the literal meaning:

  • a young chicken, having tender meat. Some restaurant menus describe an offering as spring chicken to convince customers that the bird was slaughtered at the peak of perfection.

  • Spring chicken. A young person. The phrase is usually found in the negative, as ‘She's no spring chicken.’ The implication is that she has reached an age when she is no longer a chick. A spring chicken is a young fowl ready for eating, which was originally in the spring. The expression is of US origin and dates from the early years of the 20th century.

(The Phrase Finder)

  • Thank you for your answer. So it shouldn't be used for the elderly who is respectful, for example, to an elder in a church? – Daisy White Mar 19 '17 at 15:42

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