Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Chicken Feed

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 20, 2012

Chicken feed refers to a small amount of anything especially money.  It comes from the fact that chickens can be fed grains in amounts too small for other uses but that are enough for the chickens.

Earlier this month, on March 8th, This Is Cornwall ran a news story about the youngest pupils at Falmouth Primary School and how they raised 13 newly hatched chicks.  The students fed and cared for the chicks with the help of the school staff.  The story was aptly entitled, “Cost of Keeping Hens Isn’t Chicken Feed” as the school community continues to fundraise for a coop and a plastic chicken house for their charges.

The Lodi News-Sentinel newspaper of Lodi, California ran a story on March 2, 1977 about the water resources projects that were to be suspended by the Jimmy Carter administration.  The suspensions would hopefully save the American public $5.1 billion.  The story appeared in Andrew Tully’s Capital Fare column and was entitled, “Dam Money Is Chicken Feed.”

On March 28, 1945 the front page news in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper was an article entitled, “Enclosing The Ruhr: Vital Areas In Danger.”  It read in part:

It is not too much to say that between General Patton’s Darmstadt-Aschaffenburg-Frankfurt bridgehead and the Swiss frontier there are no forces that the Third Army leader would consider as more than chicken feed while east and north-east of Frankfurt there is something very much like an open gate.

Chicken Feed was the title of a twenty-minute black-and-white short silent comedy film directed by Robert A. McGowan (22 May 1901 – 20 June 1955) and Charles Oelze (24 November 1885 –  2 August 1949), and released on November 6, 1927.  It was the 64th short from the “Our Gang” series and starred Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon and Jean Darling in the lead roles.

The Detroit Free Press carried a serialized story entitled, “Mr. Dooley On Making A Will” which was written by Finley Dunne.  Part Five was published on August 24, 1913 and the first paragraph read:

“I NEVER made a will,” said Mr. Dooley. “I didn’t want to give a headache thinkin’ iv something to put into it. A will iv mine wud be a puny little thing annyhow, an’ wan thried to file it be lible to locked up contimpt iv th’ Probate coort. Besides, I like to cause any onseemly wrangles an’ lawsuits among me heirs.”

As the story progressed, the following passage can be found:

And wit out an’ decoyed another dollar an’ aven if it come back ladin’ nawthin’ more thin a little chickenfeed, Dochney wasn’t cross about it.

While the expression isn’t used as often as the more popular “peanuts” when referring to money, the phrase first appeared in print in the memoirs of American frontiersman and statesman, Davy Crockett and published in 1836.  Davy Crockett described professional riverboat gamblers who played card games for small change, stating that gamblers made good money on their “chickenfeed” games. It would seem that the term originates with Davy Crockett and if readers can trace the expression back to before 1836, we welcome the additional information.

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