"the female of the domestic fowl," Old English henn "hen," from West Germanic *hannjo (source also of Old Frisian henn, Middle Dutch henne, Old High German henna), fem. of *hanan- "male fowl, cock" (source of Old English hana "cock"), literally "bird who sings (for sunrise)," from PIE root *kan- "to sing."
The original masculine word survives in German (Hahn "cock"), Swedish, Danish, etc. German also has a generic form, Huhn, for either gender of the bird. Extension to "female of any bird species" is early 14c. in English.
Hen as slang for "woman" dates from 1620s; hence hen party "gathering of women," first recorded 1887. To be mad as a wet hen is from 1823, but the figure was used to indicate other states: As wanton as a wet hen is in "Scots Proverbs" (1813). Among Middle English proverbial expressions was nice as a nonne hen "over-refined, fastidiously wanton" (c. 1500); to singen so hen in snowe "sing miserably," literally "sing like a hen in snow" (c. 1200). The figure of the hen with one chick dates to 1590s. Hen's teeth as a figure of scarceness is attested by 1838.
Some, on the contrary, are viciously opposite to these, who act so tamely and so coldly, that when they ought to be angry, to thunder and lighten, as one may say, they are no fuller of Heat, than a wet Hen, as the Saying is; .... ["Life of Mr. Thomas Betterton," London, 1710]
Orth. Out upon you for a dastardly Fellow; you han't the Courage of a wet Hen. ["A Sermon Preached at St. Mary-le-Bow, March 27, 1704"]
c. 1400, "spiced sauce served with meat or fowl" (early 14c. as a surname), probably from Middle Dutch pekel "pickle, brine," or related words in Low German and East Frisian (Dutch pekel, East Frisian päkel, German pökel), which are of uncertain origin or original meaning. Klein suggests the name of a medieval Dutch fisherman who developed the process.
The meaning "cucumber preserved in pickle" first recorded 1707, via use of the word for the salty liquid in which meat, etc. was preserved (c. 1500). Colloquial figurative sense of "a sorry plight, a state or condition of difficulty or disorder" is recorded by 1560s, from the time when the word still meant a sauce served on meat about to be eaten. Meaning "troublesome boy" is from 1788, perhaps from the notion of being "imbued" with roguery.
14c. as a present-participle adjective from roll (v.), "that turns over and over, moving by means of rolling." The meaning "moving on wheels or as if on wheels" is by 1560s. Of thunder, etc., "making continuous noise," 1650s. The sense of "waving, undulating," of prairie land, etc., is from 1819. The meaning "staggered, rotating," of strikes, blackouts, etc., is by 1961.
From mid-15c. as a verbal noun. Rolling-pin "cylindrical piece of wood, etc., with a handle at each end, with which dough, etc. are reduced to proper thickness," is recorded from late 15c. Rolling-paper for cigarettes, etc., is by 1969. Rolling stock "wheeled vehicles on a railroad" (locomotives, carriages, etc.) is by 1853.
The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse. [John Heywood, "A dialogue conteinying the nomber in effect of all the proverbes in the Englishe tongue," 1546]
Hence figurative use of rolling stone, of persons, "a rambler, a wanderer" (1610s).
Old English timber "building, structure," in late Old English "building material, trees suitable for building," and "trees or woods in general," from Proto-Germanic *tem(b)ra- (source also of Old Saxon timbar "a building, room," Old Frisian timber "wood, building," Old High German zimbar "timber, wooden dwelling, room," Old Norse timbr "timber," German Zimmer "room"), from PIE *deme- "to build," possibly a form of the root *dem- meaning "house, household" (source of Greek domos, Latin domus).
The related Old English verb timbran, timbrian was the chief word for "to build" (compare Dutch timmeren, German zimmern). As a call of warning when a cut tree is about to fall, it is attested from 1912 in Canadian English. Timbers in the nautical slang sense (see shiver (v.2)) is from the specialized meaning "pieces of wood composing the frames of a ship's hull" (1748).
The timber-wolf (1846) of the U.S. West is the gray wolf, not confined to forests but so-called to distinguish it from the prairie-wolf (coyote).
"tract of open, untilled, more or less elevated ground, often overrun with heath," c. 1200, from Old English mor "morass, swamp," from Proto-Germanic *mora- (source also of Old Saxon, Middle Dutch, Dutch meer "swamp," Old High German muor "swamp," also "sea," German Moor "moor," Old Norse mörr "moorland," marr "sea"), perhaps related to mere (n.1), or from root *mer- "to die," hence "dead land."
The basic sense in place names is 'marsh', a kind of low-lying wetland possibly regarded as less fertile than mersc 'marsh.' The development of the senses 'dry heathland, barren upland' is not fully accounted for but may be due to the idea of infertility. [Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names]
Hence moor-fowl "grouse" (c. 1500); moor-hen (mid-14c.); moor-cock (c. 1200 as a surname).
"feathered, warm-blooded vertebrate animal of the class Aves," Old English bird, a rare collateral form of bridd, originally meaning "young bird, nestling" (the usual Old English for "bird" being fugol, for which see fowl (n.)), which is of uncertain origin with no cognates in any other Germanic language. The suggestion that it is related by umlaut to brood and breed is rejected by OED as "quite inadmissible." The metathesis of -r- and -i- was complete 15c. (compare wright).
Despite its early attestation, bridd is not necessarily the oldest form of bird. It is usually assumed that -ir- from -ri- arose by metathesis, but here, too, the Middle English form may go back to an ancient period. [Liberman]
Up to c. 1400 it still often was used in the specific sense "the young of a bird, fledgling, nestling, chick," and of the young of other animals (bees, fish, snakes) and human children. Compare the usual Balto-Slavic words for "bird" (Lithuanian paukštis, Old Church Slavonic pŭtica, Polish ptak, Russian ptica, etc.), said to be ultimately from the same root as Latin pullus "young of an animal."
The proper designation of the feathered creation is in E. fowl, which in course of time was specially applied to the gallinaceous tribe as the most important kind of bird for domestic use, and it was perhaps this appropriation of the word which led to the adoption of the name of the young animal as the general designation of the race. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
The figurative sense of "secret source of information" is from 1540s. The colloquial meaning "man, fellow, person" is from 1799.
Bird-watching is attested from 1897. Bird's-eye view "the view as seen from above, as if by a bird in flight," is from 1762. Phrase for the birds in reference to anything undesirable is recorded from 1944, supposedly in allusion to birds eating from droppings of horses and cattle. The bird-spider (1800) of the American tropics is a large sort of tarantula that can capture and kill small birds.
A byrde yn honde ys better than three yn the wode. [c. 1530]
The form with bush is attested by 1630s.
"structure built by a bird or domestic fowl for the insulation and rearing of its young," Old English nest "bird's nest; snug retreat," also "young bird, brood," from Proto-Germanic *nistaz (source also of Middle Low German, Middle Dutch nest, German Nest; not found in Scandinavian or Gothic), from PIE *nizdo- (source also of Sanskrit nidah "resting place, nest," Latin nidus "nest," Old Church Slavonic gnezdo, Old Irish net, Welsh nyth, Breton nez "nest"), probably from *ni "down" + from PIE root *sed- (1) "to sit."
From c. 1200 of an animal or insect. Used since Middle English in reference to various accumulations of things, especially of diminishing sizes, each fitting within the next (such as a nest of drawers, early 18c.). Nest egg "retirement savings" is from 1700; it was originally "a real or artificial egg left in a nest to induce the hen to go on laying there" (nest ei, early 14c.), hence "something laid up as the beginning of a continued growth."
"refuse, filth," 1580s; earlier "giblets, refuse of a fowl, waste parts of an animal (head, feet, etc.) used for human food" (early 15c., in early use also gabage, garbish, garbidge ), of unknown origin; OED says probably from Anglo-French "like many other words found in early cookery books." In its sense of "waste material, refuse" it has been influenced by and partly confused with garble (q.v.) in its older sense of "remove refuse material from spices;" Middle English had the derived noun garbelage but it is attested only as the action of removing the refuse, not the material itself.
Perhaps the English word originally is from a derivative of Old French garbe/jarbe "sheaf of wheat, bundle of sheaves," though the sense connection is difficult. This word is from Proto-Germanic *garba- (source also of Dutch garf, German garbe "sheaf"), from PIE *ghrebh- (1) "to seize, reach" (see grab (v.)).
"In modern American usage garbage is generally restricted to mean kitchen and vegetable wastes" [Craigie]. Used figuratively for "worthless, offensive stuff" from 1590s. Garbage can is from 1901. Garbage collector "trash man" is from 1872; Australian shortening garbo attested from 1953. Garbology "study of waste as a social science" is by 1976; garbologist is from 1965.
Middle English roste, "a chicken's perch," from late Old English hrost "wooden framework of a roof; pole or perch upon which domestic fowl perch or rest for the night," from Proto-Germanic *hro(d)-st- (source also of Old Saxon hrost "framework of a roof, attic," Middle Dutch, Flemish, Dutch roest "roost," Old Norse hrot, Gothic hrot "roof"), a word of unknown origin. Extended sense "hen-house" is from 1580s; that of "fowls which occupy the roost collectively" is by 1827.
To rule the roost is recorded from 1769, according to OED apparently an alteration of earlier rule the roast "be the master, have authority " (c. 1500), which, OED reports, was "In very common use from c 1530 onwards." However, Fowler (1926) has doubts: "most unliterary persons say roost & not roast ; I have just inquired of three such, & been informed that they never heard of rule the roast, & that the reference is to a cock keeping his hens in order. Against this tempting piece of popular etymology the OED offers us nothing more succulent than "None of the early examples throw any light on the precise origin of the expression'." The spelling in the earliest example is reule the roste.
Old English cicen (plural cicenu) "young of the domestic hen, the young of any bird;" by early Middle English, "any chicken," regardless of age, from Proto-Germanic *kiukinam (source also of Middle Dutch kiekijen, Dutch kieken, Old Norse kjuklingr, Swedish kyckling, German Küken "chicken"), from root *keuk- (echoic of the bird's sound and possibly also the root of cock (n.1)) + diminutive suffixes. By regular sound changes it should have become Modern English *chichen; the reason it didn't is unknown.
Generic words for "chicken" in Indo-European tend to be extended uses of "hen" words, as hens are more numerous than cocks among domestic fowl, but occasionally they are from words for the young, as in English and in Latin (pullus). Meaning "one who is cowardly or timorous" is from 1610s; adjectival sense of "cowardly" is at least as old as 14c. (compare hen-herte "a chicken-hearted person," mid-15c.). As the name of a game of danger to test courage, it is first recorded 1953.
Chicken-feed "paltry sum of money" is by 1897, American English slang; literal use (it is made from the from lowest quality of grain) is by 1834. Chicken lobster "small lobster," is by 1947, American English, apparently from chicken in its sense of "young." To count (one's) chickens before they hatch "anticipate too confidently the obtaining or doing of something" is from 1570s. Chicken-fried steak (1937) is a U.S. Southern recipe that batters, breads, and fries a thin strip of steak in the way fried chicken typically is made.