early 13c., a double comparative, from less (adj.) + -er (2). Johnson calls it "a barbarous corruption of less, formed by the vulgar from the habit of terminating comparatives in -er." As an adverb from 1590s; now generally poetic or obsolete except in expressions such as lesser-known (1813) and lesser of two evils.
"tract of level or undulating grassland in North America," by 1773, from French prairie "meadow, grassland," from Old French praerie "meadow, pastureland" (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *prataria, from Latin pratum "meadow," originally "a hollow," a word of uncertain origin; de Vaan suggests PIE *prh-to- "allotted."
The word existed in early Middle English as prayere, praiere, but was lost and reborrowed in 18c. from Hennepin and other French writers to describe the fertile but treeless parts of the American plains.
These are the gardens of the Desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name—
[William Cullen Bryant, from "The Prairies"]
Prairie dog for the burrowing rodent of the American grasslands, is attested from 1774, so called for its cry, which is like the barking of a dog; prairie schooner "covered wagon used by emigrants in freighting on the prairies and Great Plains before the construction of transcontinental railroads" is from 1841. Illinois has been the Prairie State at least since 1861. In Latin, Neptunia prata was poetic for "the sea."
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.
"salted and peppered raw egg, drunk in booze or vinegar," by 1878, American English, from prairie + oyster (in reference to the taste or the method of consuming it). Also called prairie-cocktail (1889). Prairie-oyster as "fried calf testicle," considered a delicacy, is by 1941.
PRAIRIE OYSTER. This simple but very nutritious drink may be taken by any person of the most delicate digestion, and has become one of the most popular delicacies since its introduction by me at Messrs. Spiers and Pond's. Its mode of preparation is very simple. Into a wine glass pat a new-laid egg ; add half a tea-spoonful of vinegar, dropping it gently down on the inside of the glass ; then drop on the yolk a little common salt, sufficient not to quite cover half the size of a threepenny-piece; pepper according to taste, The way to take this should be by placing the glass with the vinegar furthest from the mouth and swallow the contents. The vinegar being the last gives it more of an oyster-like flavour. [Leo Engel, "American & Other Drinks," London, 1878]
type of hawk that is believed to prey on domestic fowl, 1802, American English. Figuratively, from the secondary senses of both words, "public person who advocates war but declined significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime," at least 1988, American English. From chicken (n.) + hawk (n.).
"the young of a chicken or domestic fowl," mid-15c. (early 14c. in surnames), a contraction of Middle English pulte, itself a contraction of polete "young chicken" (see pullet).