Chicken shit

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"Chicken shit", or more commonly "chickenshit", is a slang term, usually regarded as vulgar. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines chickenshit (one word) as a vulgar adjective with two possible meanings: "petty, insignificant" or "lacking courage, manliness, or effectiveness".[1]


The term has been used figuratively since 1929 to allege cowardice.[2] It can be used as either a noun or an adjective; it is always an insult. In October 2014, an unnamed senior official in the Obama administration was reported to have called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "chickenshit", adding that he "has got no guts".[3] Secretary of State John Kerry apologized to the prime minister,[4] while Israeli media scrambled to understand or translate the idiom.[5]


The alternate meaning of "petty, insignificant nonsense" may be used as either a noun or an adjective.[6] According to Paul Fussell in his book Wartime, chickenshit in this sense has military roots: "Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant 'paying off of old scores'; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of the ordinances ... Chickenshit is so called—instead of horse—or bull—or elephant shit—because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously."[7][8]

Other uses[edit]

The phrase "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit" is sometimes used as a variant of "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear". The expression dates back to at least the 1920s, when "chicken feathers" was sometimes used as a euphemism for chicken shit.[9]

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, "I may not know much, but I do know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "chickenshit". Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  2. ^ Partridge, Eric (2006). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: A–I. I (reprint ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 389. ISBN 9780415259378.
  3. ^ Goldberg, Jeffrey (October 28, 2014). "The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here". The Atlantic. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  4. ^ McCarthy, Tom; Roberts, Dan (October 30, 2014). "Kerry says US official's 'chickenshit' jibe at Netanyahu was disgraceful and damaging". The Guardian. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  5. ^ (Staff) (November 3, 2014). "Israelis Wonder: What's a 'Chickenshit'?". Israel Today. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  6. ^ Liberman, Mark (May 21, 2007). "Language Log". Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  7. ^ Fussell, Paul (1989). Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. Oxford Paperbacks (cited at Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  8. ^ "Chickenshit". Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  9. ^ Popik, Barry (September 22, 2009). "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit". The Big Apple. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  10. ^ "Ranking the Presidential Obscenities: 8 Foul Presidential Quotes". February 17, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2019.