Word Origin & History
O.E. liccian "to lick," from P.Gmc. *likkon (cf. Du. likken, Ger. lecken, Goth. bi-laigon), from PIE imitative base *leigh- (cf. Skt. ledhi "he licks," Arm. lizum "I lick," Gk. leikhein "to lick," L. lingere "to lick," O.Ir. ligim "I lick," Welsh llwy "spoon"). Fr. lecher is a Gmc. loan word. Sense of
"a blow, stroke" first recorded 1678 from verb sense of "to beat," first attested 1535, which may be from its use 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 c.1460. Lickspittle "sycophant" is attested from 1825. To lick (someone or something) into shape (1612) is in ref. 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," 1603, from lick
(v.). 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. Lickety-split is 1859 in Amer.Eng. (earlier lickety-cut, lickety-click, and simply
licketie, 1817) from dial. meaning of lick "very fast sprint in a race" (1809). The jazz music sense of "short figure or solo" is from 1920s.