Printable Version
Pronunciation: lik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An act of licking. 2. A blow as from a beating, as 'a lick on the chin'. 3. (Slang) A bit, small amount (usually negative and with abstract nouns), as 'couldn't do a lick of work'. 4. (Jazz slang) A few bars of improvised music fitted into a solo riff in a jazz piece. 5. (Slang) To defeat, as 'We licked 'em good.'

Notes: Sometimes the most interesting words are the short common ones. Lick is one of them. This word is obviously a count noun based on the verb to lick. The sense derived from the flicking motion of the tongues of animals as they lap water, because quickness is implied in all the senses above.

In Play: A lick may be a quick blow or slap: "When her husband came home late and drunk, she gave him a good lick up beside the head." It may also be a short riff or run of improvised music: "Rusty Horne had some great licks last night on the trumpet." It can also mean a tad or small amount: "Sheila came in so sick tonight, she could hardly dance a lick."

Word History: In Old English today's Good Word was liccian "to lap, lick up" from Proto-Germanic likkon, source also of Dutch likken and German lecken. Proto-Germanic inherited this word from the PIE word leigh- "to lick", adding only a suffixal -k. Leigh- came up in Greek as leichen "tree-moss, lichen", originally "what eats around itself" from leichein "to lick". Anyway, English grabbed the Greek word as lichen. English lecher was borrowed from Old French lecheor based on lechier "to lick, to live in debauchery". I trust your imagination can take you the rest of the way. Oh, by the way, the French verb was of Germanic origin. (Now, for a bit of gratitude to Mike Nichols, who did a lick of work in coming up with today's slangy Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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