Fear is a funny thing. It’s an emotion you can get from watching a movie. It can come from being chased by a large bear (or a serial killer, you know, just whatever). Fear comes in many varieties, too. It ranges anywhere from simple caution to paranoia. It can be derived from immediate and definite threat or even non-existent threats. Phobias and anxiety are often described as fears, but they may actually be illegitimate perceptions of danger rather than real danger. Perhaps one of the stranger associations we make with fear, however, is its animal: the chicken.
We use many different animals to describe human traits and sometimes for emotions as well. One could be stubborn as a mule or as sly as a fox. For some reason, cats and chickens are deemed the expressions of fear. Why is that, exactly? Are felines more often or more intensely frightened than other animals? Are chickens really that chicken?
The truth is, not really. Chickens (mostly roosters) are just about anything but chicken. In some cases, the chicken is a much more revered animal. Ancient Greeks, for example, even thought lions to be afraid of roosters. The devil supposedly flees at the morning crow of the rooster. Roosters are subjects of the very ruthless (and very illegal) cock-fighting sport. Even in Socrates’ dying words, he supposedly asked his debt (a rooster) be repaid for him. So why the negative connotation?
Most negative emotions come from the same gland in the brain, the amygdala, and from many factors like conditioning and different levels of cognition. Animals, too, have this gland which is of course much smaller, respectively. So yes, animals can be scared. Chickens flee from threats greater than they can tackle which is to most chicken farmers, a sure sign of intelligence. But when faced with danger at or below its level a rooster will fight to the death (fearlessly, I might add). Cats behave similarly, but the term scaredy-cat or fraidy-cat has a little more ground seeing as though cats seem to be universally afraid of water.
So be more refined in your insult-flinging! Besides, there are many other endearing terms for the chronically fearful. Try wimp, wuss, pansy, crybaby, weakling, scallywag, yellow-belly, pant-soiler, fright-fleer, danger-dodger, adversity-avoider, uncontrollably-unconfident, or just plain coward. Take your pick, but leave the chickens out of it!
By: S. Cole Garrett