to decide not to do something because you are too frightened.
- My brother and I were going to go bungee jumping, but at the last minuted I got scared and I chickened out.
Have you ever heard of the bird dance? If someone said, “I chickened out last night” someone might think they were talking about being at a dance club, maybe some younger generation slang? Or maybe they were playing a game and committed an error or were successful at something?
The origin of this phrasal verb dates back to the late 17th century where it was used to describe someone who is afraid and a coward. William Kemp’s Nine Days’ Wonder used it in the context of calling someone a coward and the phrase started to gain favor with the likes of Dickens.
Eventually it also adopted a meaning of “weak.” Today we use the phrase, a phrasal verb, to say that we or someone doesn’t have enough courage to do something, it is often used in the context of pursuing a romantic relationship.
When we use the phrase “chicken out” it suggests someone may avoid doing something because they are too shy, lack of confidence, or fear of rejection.
Example of “Chicken out”.
- I wanted to ask my boss for a raise, but I chickened out, she wasn’t in a good mood.
- I wanted to ask out Angela on a date, but I got nervous when her mom answered the phone and I chickened out!
Betty: Hey Archie, what did you do last night?
Archie: Well, I wanted to ask Sheila but I ended up hanging out with JH.
Betty: Ohh Archie! She was waiting for your call! She was wondering why you didn’t call!
Archie: Well I worked up the courage to call, then when I called the first time I got her voice mail. The second time I called, her father answered and I think he was sleeping.So I chickened out as I didn’t want him to know it was me, he didn’t sound happy being woken up.
Betty: Ha-ha. You are such a wuss!
Archie: Well, I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with her dad.
Betty: Yeah, I guess. Her dad is a Teddy Bear and his bark is bigger than his bite.
Archie: Ok, next time I won’t chicken out.
Other words you can create: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc. (ex: mug – mugger)
Avoid, abandon, renege, withdraw, recant, cancel, shy.
I wanted to, but I chickened out.
You’re not going chicken out, are you?
I chickened out at the last minute.
Related phrasal verbs:
Back out: when we use back out in the context of chicken out we are saying we do something we committed to.
- Frank backed out of the meeting, he chickened out because the CEO was going to be there.
Backtrack: to change your mind and reverse your decision.
- The boxer backtracked on his decision to fight, basically he chickened out!
Back pedal: when we use this expression in the context of chicken out we reverse or change our mind quickly usually because of a mistake or an embarrassing remark.
- After being confronted with his email the politician, he backtracked on his decision and chickened out of the press conference.
Cop out: when this phrase is used it describes when someone doesn’t do what they should do.
- What a cop out! You said you would come with us and now you are chickening out because your ex-girlfriend is going to be there? You are so chicken hearted!
Wimp out: when someone chooses the easiest way out or gives up easily, we say they wimp out.
- I wanted to go bungee jumping but my younger brother wimped out. He always chickens out at the last minute.
Wuss out: when someone doesn’t do something because they are shy, afraid or because of cowardice.
- Shelly wussed out asking for a raise and then chickened out of saying something about her overtime.
Worm out: means to get out of something a person should do or expected to do, often providing an excuse.
- We were supposed to fly, but somehow Rachel wormed out of going to China by saying she is sick. I think she chickened out because she has a phobia of flying.
Bow out: when a person bows out, they pull out or withdraw from doing something they should or want to because of fear or shyness.
- They said the Congressman bowed out of the election, but many believed he chickened out because he didn’t want people to find out about his personal life.
Throw in the towel: when we use this idiom we are saying someone is giving up.
Have no stomach for: in the context of chicken out, we would use this to suggest that someone is nauseated or avoids something because they are shy or not confident to do something.
Get cold feet: when someone becomes nervous and changes their mind because they are scared, we say they have cold feet. This is often used when someone is about to do something, like getting married, and at the last minute they change their mind.
Synonyms (other ways to say):
- Chicken hearted
- Wuss out
- Wimp out