Printable Version
Pronunciation: li-ki-ti-split Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adverb

Meaning: Extremely fast or quickly.

Notes: Lickety-split has a substantial if rather queer family of relatives. To cut quickly across the lawn is to run lickety-cut, fast horses run lickety-click on a hard surface, and a car might go lickety-smash into a tree if the driver were not careful. Lickety is used almost as a prefix in English, though we tend to hear it mostly in lickety-split.

In Play: Any sudden, fast motion qualifies for lickety-split: "William Arami leapt from his chair and ran lickety-split down the hall when he saw Marian Kine pass by." However, the motion need not be pedestrian or vehicular: "Imogene, would you write up an innocent explanation of our CEO's arrest and get it out over the wires lickety-split? Thanks."

Word History: The first component of this funny word comes from a slang use of the word lick in the sense of "to run or move very fast": "Harley's wheels licked down the road like a bolt of lightning." When combined with other verbs, however, it not only converts them to adverbs, but extends itself to lickety. This is probably the result of adding the common suffix -y to the phrase lick it, as to lick it out of the massage parlor as fast as you can. Lick itself has relatives throughout the Indo-European languages with and without the Fickle N often found in Latin but not in Germanic languages. In Latin we find lingere "to lick" and lingua "tongue," which led to language and linguistics, both borrowed from French. English also borrowed lecher from French, a word related in ways I hope I needn't explain.

Dr. Goodword,

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