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[lik] /lɪk/
verb (used with object)
to pass the tongue over the surface of, as to moisten, taste, or eat (often followed by up, off, from, etc.):
to lick a postage stamp; to lick an ice-cream cone.
to make, or cause to become, by stroking with the tongue:
to lick a spoon clean.
(of waves, flames, etc.) to pass or play lightly over:
The flame licked the dry timber.
  1. to hit or beat, especially as a punishment; thrash; whip.
  2. to overcome or defeat, as in a fight, game, or contest.
  3. to outdo or surpass.
verb (used without object)
to move quickly or lightly.
a stroke of the tongue over something.
as much as can be taken up by one stroke of the tongue.
  1. a blow.
  2. a brief, brisk burst of activity or energy.
  3. a quick pace or clip; speed.
  4. a small amount:
    I haven't done a lick of work all week.
Usually, licks. a critical or complaining remark.
Usually, licks. Jazz Slang. a musical phrase, as by a soloist in improvising.
Verb phrases
lick up, to lap up; devour greedily.
last licks, a final turn or opportunity:
We got in our last licks on the tennis court before the vacation ended.
lick and a promise, a hasty and perfunctory performance in doing something:
I didn't have time to clean thoroughly, so I gave the room a lick and a promise.
lick ass, Slang: Vulgar. kiss (def 18).
lick into shape, Informal. to bring to completion or perfection through discipline, hard work, etc.:
They needed another rehearsal to lick the production into shape.
lick one's chops. chop3 (def 7).
lick one's wounds. wound1 (def 6).
lick the dust. dust (def 24).
Origin of lick
before 1000; Middle English; Old English liccian, cognate with Old Saxon liccōn, Old High German leckōn; akin to Go bilaigon, Latin lingere, Greek leíchein to lick (up)
Related forms
licker, noun
9a. thwack, thump, rap, slap, cuff, buffet. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for lick
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He knew Jim couldn't swim a lick, so he thought he'd have Jim go drown.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • So Uncle Peter had to lick her father and two brothers before he could get her away.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • I had been used to see the men about me lick the dust at my feet, for it was gold dust.

  • Then he burst out, "I'd lick both of you, if I was sure this was a where or when to foight!"

    The Widow O'Callaghan's Boys Gulielma Zollinger
  • The younger leader turned his head to lick a wound on his shoulder.

    White Fang Jack London
British Dictionary definitions for lick


(transitive) to pass the tongue over, esp in order to taste or consume
to flicker or move lightly over or round (something): the flames licked around the door
(transitive) (informal)
  1. to defeat or vanquish
  2. to flog or thrash
  3. to be or do much better than
lick into shape, to put into a satisfactory condition: from the former belief that bear cubs were born formless and had to be licked into shape by their mother
lick one's lips, to anticipate or recall something with glee or relish
lick one's wounds, to retire after a defeat or setback in order to husband one's resources
lick the boots of, See boot1 (sense 14)
an instance of passing the tongue over something
a small amount: a lick of paint
Also called salt lick. a block of compressed salt or chemical matter provided for domestic animals to lick for medicinal and nutritional purposes
a place to which animals go to lick exposed natural deposits of salt
(informal) a hit; blow
(slang) a short musical phrase, usually on one instrument
(informal) speed; rate of movement: he was going at quite a lick when he hit it
a lick and a promise, something hastily done, esp a hurried wash
Derived Forms
licker, noun
Word Origin
Old English liccian; related to Old High German leckon, Latin lingere, Greek leikhein
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for lick

Old English liccian "to pass the tongue over the surface, lap, lick up," from Proto-Germanic *likkon (cf. Old Saxon likkon, Dutch likken, Old High German lecchon, German lecken, Gothic bi-laigon), from PIE imitative base *leigh- (cf. Sanskrit ledhi "he licks," Armenian lizum "I lick," Greek leikhein "to lick," Latin lingere "to lick," Old Irish ligim "I lick," Welsh llwy "spoon"). French lécher is a Germanic loan word.

To lick (someone or something) into shape (1610s) is in reference to the supposed ways of bears:

Beres ben brought forthe al fowle and transformyd and after that by lyckyng of the fader and the moder they ben brought in to theyr kyndely shap. ["The Pylgremage of the Sowle," 1413]


"an act of licking," c.1600, from lick (v.1). Meaning "small portion" is 1814, originally Scottish; hence U.S. colloquial sense. Sense of "place where an animal goes to lick salt" is from 1747. The jazz music sense of "short figure or solo" is by 1922.


"to beat," 1535, perhaps from figurative use of lick (v.1) in the Coverdale bible that year in sense of "defeat, annihilate" (an enemy's forces) in Num. xxii:4:

Now shal this heape licke up all that is about vs, euen as an oxe licketh vp the grasse in the field.
But to lick (of) the whip "taste punishment" is attested from mid-15c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for lick



  1. A blow; stroke: I got in a couple good licks before he decked me (1678+)
  2. Censure; adverse criticism; hit, knock: The show is no winner, but doesn't deserve the licks it's taken (1739+)
  3. A try; attempt; crack, shot, whack: I probably won't make it, but I'll give it a good lick (1863+)
  4. A time at bat: So the Yankees come up for their last licks (1883+ Baseball)
  5. A short figure or solo, esp when improvised; break, riff: a few solid licks on the sliphorn/ that I know are exactly the licks that I play (1920s+ Jazz musicians)


  1. To beat; pummel; lambaste, larrup (1563+)
  2. To defeat; clobber: Next time we'll lick 'em for good (1800+)

Related Terms

hit it a lick

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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