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Griff: "What's wrong McFly? Chicken?
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? Buk-buk!"
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 unfolds.
Anime and Manga
- Ranma ½ 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 "feminity", 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 deliberatey 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 Dragonball 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 of course 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, quite literally depicts Apollo as a chicken.
- Averted in the Disney dub of Porco Rosso. Curtis: [taunting Porco] "If you run away, I'll tell everyone you're chicken!" Porco Rosso: "Chicken, pig, what's the difference?"
Films — Animated
- Done in The Simpsons Movie where Homer gets Bart to skateboard nude across town as part of a dare.
Films — Live-Action
- This trope is named for the line in Back to The Future Part II and Part III, where Marty is shown to be easily provoked whenever someone challenges his courage. While this initially works well, pushing Marty's Berserk Button and allowing him to outmaneuver several future bullies, we also see past, present and future scenarios where this proud attitude causes very bad portents for him, with risk of job loss, crippling physical injury, and death all as possible results.
- Spaceballs: "What's the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?"
- You're just a chicken! Cheeeeeeep cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep...
- Done in Rookie of the Year when Henry provokes a baserunner to take base so he can get him out.
- In Jumanji, when Alan refuses to finish playing the game, Peter tells Judy "It's OK, he's afraid." This quickly changes Alan's tune. Peter later says he learned the technique from their dad.
- 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.
- 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. Eventually others get in on it.
Michael: Has anyone in this family ever seen a chicken?
- 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, of course. 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!
- 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.
- Keet Kabo in Sodality goes into a near-homicidal rampage if called "birdbrain."
- Ashley from The Crazy Kids Of Grade 5 will either hurt or scream at anyone who insults her, and she isn't afraid to fight people.
- "Cause everybody knows you're just a chicken, Caesar!"
- Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, of course.
Homer/Clyde: Chicken? Nobody calls me chicken without goading me into doing something stupid!
- Avatar: The Last Airbender, "The Blind Bandit"
Yosemite Sam: Now you ornery, no-good, long eared, varmint...
- 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.
- In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Applebloom 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...
Applebloom: You're just CHICKEN!
- The Fairly Odd Parents: Anti-Cosmo and Head Pixie once goaded Timmy into accepting a bet by impersonating chickens.
- NOBODY CALLS ME TUBBY!!!
- 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.