Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Our Linguistic Debt to Chickens

There are four chickens living in my back yard. How did they get there? What road did they cross to get to my yellow slide? It happened in much the same way that I ended up with a dog: I returned home from work one day and discovered that we had adopted a small flock of chickens. So I am now the proud owner of a Metro Public Health Department Domesticated Hen Permit.

Once, after asking my kids if the chickens were "cooped up" for the night, and thinking about the "pecking order" that the chickens had established, I realized how many everyday English words and expressions we owe to chickens, and how accurately they describe the actual behavior of chickens.

Consider all of the expressions that these humble birds have bestowed upon us:
  • cooped up (yes, we put the chickens in the coop every evening)
  • fly the coop (which our chickens do every morning)
  • pecking order (the chickens do peck each other. They're actually quite mean to each other -- they remind me of middle school kids)
  • hen-pecked (see "pecking order")
  • brooding (when the hens don't want to get off of their eggs, they are said to be "broody". I assume that's where "to brood" and "brooding" come from)
  • the chickens have come home to roost (not at our house -- they live with us all the time)
  • cocky (roosters are more feisty.  It's illegal to own them in my county -- we can only have hens. When one of our chicks turned out to be a rooster, we had to give it away to friends who live in the next county over, where nothing is illegal -- people there have llamas in their front yards!)
  • mother hen (no chance to observe this one -- we have not bred our chickens -- see previous comment about roosters)
  • don't count your chickens before they hatch (our friends gave my daughter a fertilized egg, and she was very excited about her prospective chick, but it just never hatched)
  • don't put all of your eggs in one basket (just don't)
  • a spring chicken (it's bad to try to hatch chicks too late in the year -- they will freeze if they are still immature during the winter)
  • chicken feed (turns out it's not so cheap)
This is a G-rated blog, so I won't mention the other obvious expression, but it's all over our back yard.

The other thing I realized from watching chickens is that they, not alligators and turtles, are the true descendants of the dinosaurs. I can easily imagine a 40-foot-tall chicken stomping down my street and devouring all the neighborhood pets, just like the Tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park. A terrifying thought. But just think of the eggs.


Joseph Moore said...

Perhaps, given chickens' contributions to communication, SETI should take a look at KFC 8462852...?

Robert Scherrer said...

Ouch! Although I am not sure my chickens would appreciate the joke.

Hamish said...

Don't forget "egging on" and "over-egged"...and of course "Which came first..."

Martin Kennedy said...

Chickens coming home to roost DOES happen at your house. Each evening, about dusk, they do indeed find their way back to the roost. You need not herd chickens back to their coop / roost.

Robert Scherrer said...

So my chickens are, in fact, smarter than my dog?