Definition: Scared easily; cowardly.
The term chicken-hearted refers to someone who is easily scared or cowardly in nature. It is typically used as an insult and generally has a negative connotation. This term derives from the idiomatic meaning of the word chicken in English, which also refers to someone who is cowardly.
Origin of Chicken-Hearted
Chicken-hearted was first used during the late 17th century, although there is little information regarding its first use in print. This idiom is similar to faint-hearted and faint of heart, both of which have the same meaning in English.
In English, the word chicken has an idiomatic meaning, which refers to someone who is too scared or reluctant to do something due to cowardice or fear. Chicken is used in several English idioms and phrases, including to chicken out of something and to chicken out on someone.
The idiomatic noun form of chicken was first used in this context in Shakespeare’s play, Kempe’s Nine Days’ Wonder, written in 1600. Chicken was first used in the same context in verb form around the early 20th century.
Examples of Chicken-Hearted
Typically, chicken-hearted has a negative connotation because it implies that the person is a coward. This idiom is often used to insult someone. In some cases, it can be used as playful banter between friends.
This sample conversation between two friends illustrates the correct use of this idiom.
Petunia: Are you going to go swimming with us or not?
Troy: I don’t want to. I don’t like that lake; I can’t see the bottom.
Petunia: You’re the most chicken-hearted man I’ve ever met.
- Their chicken-hearted response to the threats is a warning to everyone who works in the arts that controversy is best avoided. – NY Post
- In his New York Times interview, Ebersol referred to jokes about the NBC late-night kerfuffle being made this week by Conan and CBS’s David Letterman as “chicken-hearted and gutless.” – The Washington Post
The English phrase chicken-hearted refers to someone who is cowardly in nature or easily scared. It is most commonly used as an insult, but it can also be used in playful banter.