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Griff Tannen: What's wrong, McFly, chicken?
(Data plays a chicken sound effect)
Marty McFly: What did you call me, Griff?
Griff: Chicken, McFly!
Some heroes take so much pride in themselves that they just can't turn a challenge down. To do so would be an affront to their personal honor
. It would imply that they don't have the courage to go through with what would happen if they failed. Moreover, by showing that they lack the resolve to go through with the challenge implies that they think they'd lose. And by gosh, no hero of ours is going to be a loser!
Inevitably, though, a situation will arise that's so over-the-top that even the most headstrong character is going to think, "Maybe it isn't worth risking my life in a chainsaw-juggling contest just because I accidentally said that guy's hair looks like a mullet". It's here that only one thing has to be said to get the character to go through with the crazy scheme anyway.
"What are you? Chicken
Of course, this doesn't always end well. Often, insulting a character's courage can end up pushing the Berserk Button
, and the opposition will promptly get taken to the cleaners on whatever the bet was. Sometimes this is done deliberately thanks to a tricky mentor
to get the hero to do something he is unlikely to do for any other reason.
By contrast, things can go very badly if the villain is deliberately manipulating the hero into doing something stupid, using the hero's pride as a means of accomplishment. Expect a great deal of evil laughing
as this devious plot
Sometimes a character doesn't like to be called a Dirty Coward
because he actually is
one. This can go one of two ways: He might chicken out at the last minute and head for the hills, making him a Miles Gloriosus
. Or he might live up to his blustering and win the fight anyway, Becoming the Boast
The inverse trope is when the character puts up with being called a chicken because deep down they really aren't one
; that's The So-Called Coward
Subtrope of Inspirational Insult
. Compare Fearless Fool
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Anime and Manga
- Ranma ˝ has the titular character accept all challenges for a duel, no matter how unreasonable or uneven the stakes because of Ranma's strong sense of pride and unwillingness to let anyone have any excuse to call him a coward. At times this was so irrational that he even accepted things like "cuteness" challenges, where Ranma had to prove that he was the cutest competitor even when he didn't want people to think of him that way at all. Whenever Ranma gets involved in some contest that revolves around proving his "femininity", it's invariably either due to wounded pride or because he's been forced into it.
- Played with in at least one case. Shampoo tries to egg Akane on by telling her that Ranma will date her if she wins the Martials Arts Takeout Delivery contest, trying to provoke Akane into going all You Know What You Did on him. Several minutes later Shampoo actually tries to make the ridiculous proposal to Ranma and he accepts.
- The trope was deliberately invoked by Cologne in her first duel with Ranma: when it seems the young martial artist is whipping the floor with the little old lady, the latter challenges Ranma formally and gets him to agree to marry Shampoo if she wins. Ranma, high on his near-certain victory, agrees, and Cologne immediately beats him into paste.
- Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z is goaded by Cell into sparing him just long enough for Cell to become powerful enough that they can have a "fair fight". Vegeta even beats up the other characters who try to stop him. Needless to say, this doesn't end well.
- The titular character of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple has a big case of this. He's not a huge fan of violence and fighting in general, almost to the point of pacifism, but the biggest way to get him to fight you (aside from threatening his Love Interest Miu) is to call him a chicken or a coward, at which point he will turn around and give you a massive ass-kicking.
- Ace from One Piece falls prey to this whenever anyone badmouths Whitebeard or threatens his little brother. Indeed, his original purpose in the series is to hunt down Blackbeard after his "insult" of killing a fellow crewmember. This trait tends to go poorly for Ace though as he always gets defeated/captured/hurt whenever this trope takes effect (we even learn after the fact that Ace's battle against Blackbeard was an example of this as Ace couldn't leave Blackbeard alone even if he wanted to due to both the threat he posed to Luffy and the insult to Whitebeard that would occur if he had abandoned the battle. He loses this battle horribly and gets captured as a result). Finally, in what is the most apt example of this trope, Ace, after having just been freed from execution in Marineford, gets goaded into a fight with Admiral Akainu via the latter purposely insulting Whitebeard. Then, to make matters worse, Akainu invokes Ace's second berserk button by suddenly attacking his little brother, resulting in Ace taking the punch for Luffy. "Going badly" understates the result of this as Ace dies from this even though he's in a series well known for its fluid mortality.
- In Eyeshield 21, after Leonard Apollo arrogantly cancels the Japan vs. America football match between the Deimon Devil Bats and the Nasa Aliens, Hiruma baits him into going through with it by making a viral video that, among other indignities, depicts Apollo as a chicken.
- In Chapter 2 of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha INNOCENT, Lord Dearche manages to goad a reluctant Alicia into joining the team match by calling her, well...
Dearche: I guess you're happy with your current number of losses to me, hey, LITTLE CHICKEN?
- This is why Red in Pokémon Special agrees to battle Giovanni, even though Red would be forced to join Team Rocket if he loses.
- The Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL dub gives us this gem:
Yuuma: Maybe you're just a big chicken!
Shark: Chicken? Do you know what happened to the last person who called me a chicken?
Yuuma: Something, uh, bad?
Shark: I don't know, because it's NEVER EVER happened before!
- "Back To The Future Prequel": Marty, even though he's scared of "The Doctor", spray-paints his house to avoid being called scared.
- The Ikaris uses this to put the plot into motion. The gang finds Misato's beer stash and Asuka dares Shinji to drink. Then he dares her to try and out-drink him. By the end of it, the two are so blasted, they got married and forgot about it the next morning.
- A Future of Friendship, A History of Hate: This is how Fury Cross goads Rainbow Dash into fighting him in Episode 3. Notably, she doesn't really care about the specific insults, she just can't stand anyone disrespecting her or her reputation in any way.
Films — Animated
- Done in The Simpsons Movie where Homer gets Bart to skateboard nude across town as part of a dare.
- On Peter Pan, Captain Hook calls Peter a coward for flying away instead of fighting him man to man. Peter says "No one calls Pan a coward and lives" and gives his word to fight Hook without flying.
Films — Live-Action
- David from Animorphs has a huge complex about being seen as cowardly and weak, to the point of doing extremely stupid things to make himself look good. When he betrays the team, it's in part due to Blood Knight Rachel denouncing him as a coward.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Brienne uses this tactic to pretty much save Jaime Lannister's life after he loses his right hand. Jaime's pretty much hoping to die at that point, and doing everything he can to bring it about, until she accuses him of being too cowardly to live with what's happened. It actually works, because while people have been calling him a murderer and a traitor behind his back for decades, no one has ever called him a coward before — and he's not about to let them start now.
- Calling Snape a coward is an... ill-advised move, to put it lightly.
- The Berenstain Bears and the Double Dare has Brother Bear dealing with peer pressure. On a number of occasions, Too-Tall Grizzly, who invites Brother to join his gang calls him a chicken for not wanting to get involved in the gang's idea of "fun".
- The Amanda Show had a recurring sketch where a brother and sister would do any dare anybody gave them, no matter how gross or embarrassing, once someone called them chicken, scared, etc.
- Arrested Development makes a running gag out of Gob's bizarre chicken impression when he tries to invoke this trope. Eventually others get in on it. People tend to be more annoyed by the terrible impression than the insult.
Buster: That's not how a chicken sounds! CHICKENS DON'T CLAP!
Michael: Has anyone in this family ever seen a chicken?
- Mr. Meaty had an episode called "Incredible Jerk," where at one point, Parker calls Josh a little chicken and teasingly clucks, to which Josh replies with, "Well at least I'm not a pig, Porker!".
- In the The Big Bang Theory episode "The Jiminy Conjecture", we have this gem:
Howard: Tell you what; I'm willing to bet ANYTHING, that's an ordinary field cricket.
Sheldon: I can't take your money.
Howard: What's the matter? You chicken?
Sheldon: I've always found that an inappropriate slur. Chickens are not, by nature, at all timid. In fact, when I was young, my neighbor's chicken got loose and chased me up the big elm tree in front of our house.
Raj: Chickens can't climb trees.
Sheldon: Thank God.
Howard: Okay. (holds hands up in surrender) I believe a chicken made you his bitch.
- Doctor Who: In "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy", a spambot arrives in the TARDIS advertising the Psychic Circus. Ace refuses to visit, until it suddenly asks her if she's scared to go.
- U.S. Acres: A worm dared Booker (a literal chicken, mind you) to cross a line and vanished inside his hole before Booker responded. After Booker crossed the line, the same worm (or another one) showed up from another hole and acted like Booker had yet to decide if he'd accept the challenge or not. Booker was confused.
- This trope is constantly invoked in professional wrestling. No matter how much they have to lose or how unfavorable the stipulations, all wrestlers will accept any ridiculous challenge if their opponent attempts to brand them a coward. Faces will generally concede instantly if somebody calls them a chicken whilst heel wrestlers may need to have the same challenge put to them for three weeks in a row, but it never fails.
- William Shakespeare's Macbeth is suddenly having second thoughts halfway through his plot to kill King Duncan, who after all is a nice old man who's done Macbeth great honour. Lady Macbeth is having none of it and gives him a speech which essentially amounts to "What's the matter, Macbeth? You chicken?".
- World of Warcraft gives players the ability to make their characters emote in front of other players and NPCs. The most notable emote for this trope is aptly named "/chicken." The most notable race to use this trope effectively is the male goblin.
- "Hey, we've got a chicken over here! Buk buk buk buuuuuk!!!!"
- In Super Paper Mario, the usually cowardly Luigi is angered by Dimentio's statement that "the shag upon his lip will make a fine trophy", to which he responds "SHAG? This moustache is all LUIGI!". Battle ensues, and Luigi wins. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Batman Gambit for Dimentio to implant him with a floro sprout so he could then effectively gain the Chaos Heart.
- When you meet Anne in Metal Max Returns:
Anne: Listen up you cowards! This kid here said that you looked dumber than a bucket of hammers! But I think he was being way too easy on you! I told him, the last time I saw this many sacks of shit, I was in a fertilizer factory!
Soldier A: What the hell did you say? You fuckers want your faces rearranged?
Anne: Hey, you're starting to catch on! A bunch of losers like you ought to be ashamed to call yourselves soldiers! Come on, let's get it on! I'm going to mop the floor with you and throw you out on your asses!
Soldier B: You bastards! You're going to regret that!
- Rumy of Fans! challenges the General to one-on-one combat. The General is Genre Savvy enough to say "No" and order her Mooks to open fire instead, but after Rumy rips into her divine image with accusations of cowardice, she gives in rather than cause her side to doubt her.
- In Exiern any insult to Tiffany's pride requires retribution...whether it is a sword fight or holding a dressmaker at sword point until she makes Tiffany prettier and more feminine than the Alpha Bitch. For the record, Tiffany used to be a male barbarian.
- Homer Simpson from The Simpsons.
Chicken? Nobody calls me chicken without goading me into doing something stupid!
- Avatar The Last Airbender, "The Blind Bandit"
Toph: Sounds to me like you're scared!
The Boulder is over his
conflicted feelings, and is now ready to bury you in a Rockalanche!
Toph: Whenever you're ready, the Pebble!
- A classic exchange between Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes:
Yosemite Sam: Now you ornery, no-good, long eared, varmint...
: Just a minute, doc. Them's fightin' words.
Yosemite Sam: Yeah, them's fightin' words!
(draws a line across the ground): I dare you to step across this line.
Yosemite Sam: I'm a-steppin'.
''(some variations involve multiple "lines", but they always result in Sam falling of a cliff/diving board/what have you)
- The Powerpuff Girls: In the Your Worst Nightmare episode, Blossom gets Buttercup to face her fear by teasing her about being afraid.
- El Tigre, in the episode Dia de Los Muertos. all the dead Riveras and Manny are in a saloon brawl, and three guys walk up.
Guy: Hey, I know why the Riveras are always fighting each other. They're all cowards, who are afraid to fight anyone else.
Riveras (in unison)
* furious dust-cloud of ass-kicking*
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Apple Bloom is attempting to actually call a chicken, and Scootaloo claims "that is not how you call a chicken!" When Scootaloo refuses to show her the right way to call a chicken…
Scootaloo: Am not!
Apple Bloom: Oh wait, now I know how to call a chicken. SCOOTALOOOO! SCOOT-SCOOTALOOOOOOO!
Scootaloo: That was so funny, I forgot to laugh!
Apple Bloom: You also forgot how to call a chicken.
Granny Smith: What did you just call me, sonny?
- And in "Pinkie Pride", guest star Cheese Sandwich takes offense to being called "boneless".
Cheese Sandwich: Nopony calls me boneless! (turns to his rubber chicken) Right, Boneless?
- The Fairly OddParents: Anti-Cosmo and Head Pixie once goaded Timmy into accepting a bet by impersonating chickens.
- "Shredder! Do you fear us?!"
- Family Guy did this in "Mr. Saturday Knight"
Black Knight: You see kids your father is nothing but a FIZZLE!
- From the Mr. Bogus episode "Bogus To The Rescue":
[Every inanimate object in the bathroom starts laughing at Bogus.]
Bogus: Oh yeah?!? Bogus not chicken! Bogus not- [Promptly turns into a chicken and starts clucking like one.]
- Ultimate Spider-Man: In the episode "Run Pig Run," Spider-Man, after being transformed into a pig by Loki and made the target of an Asgardian boar hunt, is hiding in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarrier while his friends and allies. Loki proceeds to taunt him, stating that since Spidey is letting everyone else fight his battles for him, perhaps a chicken was a more appropriate form for him than a pig. Spidey is livid and immediately jumps into the fray.
- In one occasion where the Stunt Dawgs were contract bound to perform stunts for one of Fungus' movies, he tried to use this trope to make them wear blindfolds during the performance. They said that the contract didn't require them to accept that request and they asked 60 million dollars in exchange for doing it. Fungus made a conter-proposition (half the gross profits) and they accepted it.
- The Adventure Time episode "Memories Of Boom Boom Mountain" has a shout-out to the Back to the Future example above, where the Marauder leader calls Finn "chicken" (with the added bonus of the former being voiced by Thomas F. Wilson himself).
- Ed, Edd n Eddy manages to invert this trope. When Eddy taunts farm boy Rolf by calling him a chicken, Rolf is furious at the insult to chickens and takes Eddy up on his challenge.
- Supposedly, in the Wild West calling someone a coward was one of four fighting words that you would only invoke if you were prepared to fight for your life. The other three were thief, cheater (especially when playing cards in a saloon), and liar.
- Truth in Television: In Tennessee and the DC area, you can get arrested for calling someone a coward if they refuse to fight you. This is actually where the phrase, "Them's fightin' words!" comes from. "Fighting words" is actually a legal term referring to words spoken to deliberately incite a fight, which is illegal.
- For anyone who gets pressured into doing drugs, if they are called a "C-H-I-C-K-E-N" for refusing, they can tell them (or not) that it stands for "Cool, Honest, Intelligent, Clear headed, Keen, Energetic, and Not interested in drugs".
- This was very nearly the undoing of Second World War flying ace and rare positive example of Inspirationally Disabled Douglas Bader. Someone dared him to perform an aileron roll at low level over the airfield, which he wasn't especially keen to do for the very good reason that it's bloody dangerous... Then they implied that this was down to cowardice on Bader's part. So he tried it, and it went horribly wrong and cost him both his legs.