1. a beating or thrashing.
  2. a reversal or disappointment; defeat or setback.
the act of a person or thing that licks.

Origin of licking

Middle English word dating back to 1350–1400; see origin at lick, -ing1
Related formsnon·lick·ing, adjective



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 formslick·er, noun

Synonyms for lick Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for licking

Contemporary Examples of licking

Historical Examples of licking

  • But because it was a love-gift I ate all of it and was licking the basket-tray when Tse-tse came back.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • Then, suddenly, he saw a great dragon, who was licking a stone.

  • They concluded by licking the porringers, and were smeared with soup up to their eyes.

    The Downfall

    Emile Zola

  • He began to make his toilet, first licking his right-hand whiskers and then his left.

    Pariah Planet

    Murray Leinster

  • And Egbert—by the living jingo, Egbert was in for a licking.

    Fair Harbor

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

British Dictionary definitions for licking


noun informal

a beating
a defeat



(tr) 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
(tr) 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 boot 1 (def. 14)


an instance of passing the tongue over something
a small amounta 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 movementhe was going at quite a lick when he hit it
a lick and a promise something hastily done, esp a hurried wash
Derived Formslicker, noun

Word Origin for lick

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

Word Origin and History for licking

"an act of licking or lapping," late 14c., from present participle of lick (v.1); meaning "a beating" is 1756, from lick (v.2).



"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.



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper