lick and promise

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 24 01:16:14 UTC 2011

>From a comment by Richard Epstein:

> I disregarded his advice, and have taught a bewildering array of courses on
> a lick and a promise, nothing more.

OED seems to have nothing. MWOLD does (under noun):

-- lick and a promise
> : a perfunctory performance of a task (Random House Unabr. 2011) Has it under the verb:

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.

Farlex, also under noun:

lick and a promise
> A superficial effort made without care or enthusiasm.

 Phrase Finder:

A lick and a promise
> Meaning
> A cursory effort, for instance at painting or tidying up. It alludes to the
> perfunctory washing performed by children.
> Origin
> This is colloquial English and is first recorded in print in Walter White's
> /All round the Wrekin/, 1860:
> "We only gives the cheap ones a lick and a promise."

It's certainly not the first recorded instance:
A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases: Collected in Whitby and the
Neighbourhood. By Francis Kildale Robinson. London: 1855
p. 157

> A Slake, amere wipe, not a thorough cleansing. "A lick and a slake," or "A lick
> and a promise," as a slut gets over certain of her household duties.
Pierce Egan's Book of Sports, and Mirror of Life. London: 1832
p. 19
> In truth, his customers had but a sorry time of it ; he had had so much to
> do with the previous kicker that he could only give them a "/lick/ and a
> promise [/ incessant peals of laughter/.]
Critical Review. Volume 24(4). London: December 1811.
[Review of] Thinks I to myself. A Serio-Ludicro, Tragico-Comico Tale. By
Thinks-I-to-Myself [Edward Nares].  p. 381

> The Prince Regent comes in for a blessing too, but as one of
> Serio-Comico-Clerico's nurses, who are so fond of over-feeding little
> babies, would say, it is but a /lick and a promise/.

Original edition came out in April 1811, but the text did not have these
words--this was added in the review. A follow up from Nares:
Thinks-I-to-myself. A Serio-Ludicro, Tragico-Comico tale. Volume 1.  By
Thinks-I-to-Myself /Who?/ [Edward Nares]. 7nd Edition. [February] 1812
[Added] Preface, Dedication, Introduction, Adveritsement to the Public, &c.
&c. &c. &c. &c. p. xxxi

> That I have complimented, or rather /implored a blessing/, on the /King/
> and the /Regent/ I do /not/ deny; that I have offered "/adoration/" to
> either I /do/ deny. The /King/ I love and venerate to a degree that I cannot
> describe, and I care not who knows it. The /Regent/ I love and respect for
> his most amiable and high minded attention to, and reverence of his Father's
> feelings. I say no more of him in my book. I owe allegiance to both,
> according to the principles of the Constitution ; but I hope I am not to
> blame, in availing myself of every /fair plea/ to attach myself to those
> exalted individuals. The /Critical Reviewers/ talk of "a /lick/ and a
> /promise/." I know not what they mean; I do declare, 1 am unacquainted with
> the meaning of such terms. They may, be vulgar, or they may be refined ; I
> only say, they are totally new to me. They expect me to "/dress up/" another
> "/dish of flummery for his Royal Highness/." Not I. I will be as honest with
> his Royal Highness as with the rest of the world; and I only wish that no
> man may ever be a worse friend to him than myself. If so, he will be safe,
> whether Regent or King.

The Dialect of Leeds and Its Neighbourhood. By C. Clough Robinson. 1862
p. 357

> LICK. To partially do a thing is to give it a "lick." "Nobbud a lick." "A
> fairish lick." "A clean lick,"--nothing short of thorough. When "boots" has
> overslept himself, he gives his pairs " a lick an' a prom',"--a lick and a
> promise.


The American Dialect Society -

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