Q: My mother, who is practically 90, claims things like this: “The kitchen floor demands to be waxed, yet I only have time to give it a lick and also a promise.” Wbelow does the phrase “a lick and also a promise” come from?

A: The expression “a lick and also a promise” is at leastern 200 years old. Why “lick”? The Oxford English Dictionary says one interpretation of the word is “a slight and also hasty wash.”

In this feeling, according to the OED, “lick” normally appears in the expression “a lick and also a promise.” (The “promise” signifies an intention to execute a much better project at some time later on.)

The dictionary’s earliest tape-recorded usage of “a lick and a promise” is from Wtransform White’s travel book All Round the Wrekin (1860): “We just provides the cheap ones a lick and a promise.” (The Wrekin is a hill in Shropshire, England.)

However before, the word sleuth Barry Popik has found virtually half a dozen previously examples of “a lick and also a promise.” Here’s the earliest, from the December 1811 concern of The Critical Review, a journal established by Tobias Smollett:

“The Prince Regent comes in for a blessing, also, yet as among the Serio-Comico-Clerico’s nurses, who are so fond of over-feeding little bit babies, would say, it is however a lick and a promise.”

The “lick” in the expression was initially used by itself, to mean “a dab of paint” or the prefer, “a hasty tidying up,” or “a casual amount of job-related,” the OED says.

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The earliest example in writing of this feeling of “lick,” Oxford states, originates from James Maidment’s A Packet of Pestilent Pasquils (circa 1648), a arsenal of Scottish literary oddities: “We’ll mark them via a lick of tarre.”

Why is a cursory slap of paint or a casual attempt at a project dubbed a “lick”? Tright here could be a connection through another definition of the word, which the OED defines as “a small quantity, so much as might be had actually by licking.”

This intake dates back to the 17th century and is often provided in negative constructions: “he hain’t operated a lick” … “couldn’t prepare a lick” … “didn’t have a lick of sense” … “couldn’t read a lick,” and also so on.

While we’re on the topic, there’s another kind of “lick” altogether, the one that implies “a smart blow,” in the words of the OED. This use of “lick” dates ago to the late 17th century.

Oxford’s earliest instance originates from Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s A Collection of Several Relations & Treatises Singular and also Curious (1680): “ gave the Other half a dozen excellent Licks with his Cane.”

And finally (considering that we seem to be on a roll here) comes the “lick” that suggests a brief solo, usually improvised, in jazz or dance music.

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This one is of a a lot younger vintage.

The OED’s initially example is from a weekly music newspaper when publimelted in London, the Melody Maker (1932): “They regulate to steal a ‘lick’ from an Amerihave the right to record.”

This more current example is from the Toronto Globe and also Mail (1970): “The blues riff is even better, full of Charlie Parker-like bebop licks.”