Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. It should not be confused with its opposite, connotation. Denotation is the basic, literal meaning of the word. Connotation is a word with associations other than the definition. Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise" has a line that provides denotation and connotation:
You may cut me with your eyes... (22)
The denotation for the verb cut is to "carve" as with a Thanksgiving turkey or "mow" as with a lawn. However, as Angelou addresses prejudicial actions toward blacks, the connotation of cut here means to "injure."
A chicken is a fowl that lays eggs or may be served for dinner. However, calling someone a chicken implies that he is a coward. It is the difference between inexpensive and cheap. Both denote the same thing, but in terms of connotation, while inexpensive means "not costly," the connotation for cheap is "poorly made."