Definition of lick in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /lɪk/


[with object]
1Pass the tongue over (something) in order to taste, moisten, or clean it: he licked the stamp and stuck it on the envelope
More example sentences
  • I edged away as far as I could get, finished my chips, and decided that I'd pass on licking my fingers clean.
  • I wondered if they ever got splinters in their tongues from licking the wooden bowls clean.
  • He now always licks the lenses clean with his tongue before wiping them on a cloth.
tongue, wet, moisten, wash, clean;
taste, lap, slurp
1.1 [no object, with adverbial of direction] (Of a flame, wave, or breeze) move lightly and quickly like a tongue: the flames licked around the wood
More example sentences
  • With a ‘whoosh’, the dried wood and grasses caught fire, and the flames licked around the pyre.
  • He dropped the fireball, the ground erupting in a fierce inferno, brutal flames licking at the surrounding trees with their fiery tongues.
  • When firefighters arrived thick smoke was billowing from the windows of three floors and flames were licking from the ground floor of the building, which is understood to be used as a market hall.
flicker, play, flick, flit, dart, ripple, dance
2 informal Overcome (a person or problem) decisively: all right Mary, I know when I’m licked the Chancellor said that the government had inflation licked
More example sentences
  • After not beating Leicester for 13 years, Gregory thought he had them licked when his side equalised 15 minutes from time.
  • Well, I'm sure with counseling and stuff, you're going to lick this.
  • So you can take the entire project on a disk and a laptop to your villa in Portugal and edit cost-free till you feel you've licked it.
2.1Beat or thrash (someone): she stands tall and could lick any man in the place
More example sentences
  • I hope that the brevity of this war does not convince Americans that we can lick anybody on the block.
  • If you see him, lick him with a stone or something.
  • He said that these same parishioners would eventually turn around and lick him with some big stones.
2.2 (lick someone/thing down) West Indian Cut or knock someone or something down: the boy was quiet, but if you cross he path, he lick you down
More example sentences
  • The Atlantic coast of the island is not that great for swimming, a bit too rough, and hence, one evening I did walk in waist high, but the waves were licking me down so I didn't tarry.


1An act of licking something with the tongue: Sammy gave his fingers a lick
More example sentences
  • She nudged him with her nose, and gave him a brief lick of her long tongue before turning and trotting away.
  • I extracted slow licks from a single scoop of vanilla.
  • Kevin tried to intercede at one point but got his head covered with big wet sloppy tongue licks for his trouble.
1.1A quick movement of flame, water, etc. a tiny lick of flame flickered round the mouth of the flame-thrower
More example sentences
  • His eyes were transfixed in a blank stare, not seeming to recognize anything around him, but focused intently upon the licks of flame that jumped and fluttered off of the burning wood beneath the cooking grate.
  • To hundreds of varieties of eucalyptus, acacia, wattles, banksia trees, grasses and weeds, the lick of flame is a welcome trigger that kindles life in their seed pods and generates ash to fertilise the soil.
  • My mother was standing at the kitchen window watching a column of thick black smoke rising into the sky, punctuated by the odd lick of flame.
2 informal A light coating or quick application of something, especially paint: she needed to give the kitchen a lick of paint
More example sentences
  • Then, a couple of years ago, it had a lick of paint and a bit of internal surgery and, lo and behold, it changed name and nationality in one go.
  • All it needs is a lick of paint and a bit of work on the kitchen.
  • What would it cost for a lick of paint, some artificial flowers and some air fresheners?
dab, bit, drop, dash, spot, touch, hint, dribble, splash, sprinkle, trickle;
informal smidgen, tad
2.1 [in singular, usually with negative] US An extremely small amount of something abstract: there’s not a lick of suspense in the entire plot
More example sentences
  • The most inventive shorts are in the animation category, particularly two painstakingly made stop-motion movies with not a lick of dialogue.
  • I will select a swaybacked old nag without a lick of spirit.
  • Sadly, none of them are worth a lick of spite.
3 informal A short phrase or solo in jazz or popular music: cool guitar licks
More example sentences
  • Each song combines similar elements - hip hop loops, cheesy retro keyboards, sampled jazz licks, and various other found sounds.
  • Several tracks also include chilled vocals, as well as some fiery jazz licks from the clarinetist/sax player.
  • The sophomore set is a slightly more grown-up and all round musical affair that at times meanders from jazz licks through ambient auras, but is ultimately built on a foundation of '80s electronica.
4 informal A smart blow: his mother gave him several licks for daring to blaspheme
More example sentences
  • Michael got a few licks in while he could.
  • Nearly as important as glass and magnification is a device's ability to take a few licks.
  • Many believed that you should have taken your licks and accepted the situation.



at a lick

informal At a fast pace: the hearse was going at a fair lick for that normally sedate vehicle
More example sentences
  • Taken at a lick, the most famous of the plays, The Playboy of the Western World, is a triumph.
  • Despite his absence the parliament is going up at a lick and looking more awesome by the day.
  • Online recruitment revenues are growing at a lick - 43 per cent year on year for the first three quarters of 2003-and are expected to grow to £200m by 2008.
speed, rate, pace, tempo, velocity, momentum
informal clip

a lick and a promise

informal An act of cleaning or washing something in a hasty manner: she would give a lick and a promise to her parlour, and sit down to await the American gentleman
More example sentences
  • Look at the way you skip from chore to chore, always doing everything with a lick and a promise.
  • Generally, players sign balls with a lick and a promise.
  • The global fiat currency is based on nothing more than a lick and a promise and long-term it's headed toward complete restructuring.

lick someone's boots (or vulgar slang arse)

Be excessively obsequious towards someone.
Example sentences
  • He accused him of ‘deliberately contributing to a great propaganda coup in which… the British Government are licking their boots’.
  • Suddenly the staff are licking our boots, plying us with free chocs and smiles.
  • And who needs to worry about being called to account for your hypocritical lies, when you have such a gloriously supine media to lick your boots and shield your Royal Person.

lick someone/thing into shape

see shape.

lick one's lips (or chops)

Look forward to something with eager anticipation: I’m not a policeman, so don’t start licking your lips over the idea of a police brutality charge
More example sentences
  • I know I'll be taken to task for this stand, that many parents who are licking their chops in anticipation of getting the $1, 000 would probably want to murder me.
  • Some smart attorney could easily identify at least ten possible criminal acts in those two slaps, and dad would be licking his chops in anticipation of a generous court award for his son's few moments of discomfort.
  • But while snow begins to flutter effortlessly from the sky and wreaths begin to pop up on front doors, Canadian children everywhere smile and lick their chops in anticipation.

lick one's wounds

Retire to recover one’s strength or confidence after a humiliating experience: the party was licking its wounds after electoral defeat
More example sentences
  • The objectors retreated to their homes, licking their wounds and gathering their strength for a fight against two other wind farms.
  • Rarely can a Cup Final have ended in such dramatic circumstances, and while Longford rejoiced, the Waterford players retired to lick their wounds and to look forward to real life again.
  • Devastated at being let down by her own body, she has been licking her wounds, taking stock, trying to recover the self-belief that propelled her to victory in the Olympics, the European Championships and two Commonwealth Games.

not be able to do something a lick

US informal Be totally incompetent at the specified activity: I couldn’t sing a lick


licker [usually in combination]

Example sentences
  • He's accused the Coalition of being lickers and suck-holes.
  • The click/snap is actually a replacement for the lick; you will find that most of these dogs aren't lickers.
  • As it turned out, my licker refused to use the whipped cream, as he objected to the taste (and quite right too - it was that disgusting synthetic stuff that comes out of a can).


Old English liccian, of West Germanic origin; related to Dutch likken and German lecken, from an Indo-European root shared by Greek leikhein and Latin lingere.

  • language from Middle English:

    The word language is from Old French langage, based on Latin lingua ‘tongue’, which is also found in linguist (late 16th century), and goes back to an Indo-European root shared with lick (Old English). The expression to lick someone into shape comes from the old tradition that bear cubs were born a formless mass, and had literally to be licked into shape by their mothers. Lingo (mid 17th century) is probably from the Portuguese form of lingua.

Words that rhyme with lick

artic, brick, chick, click, crick, flick, hand-pick, hic, hick, kick, mick, miskick, nick, pic, pick, quick, rick, shtick, sic, sick, slick, snick, stick, thick, tic, tick, trick, Vic, wick

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: lick

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.