The Sanas of the Irish Art of the Lick
DanCas1 at AOL.COM
Thu Dec 16 16:16:56 UTC 2004
The Irish Art of the "Lick"
Lick: To beat. To vanquish. To defeat. To overcome.
Leag, v.t., i. (vn. ~an, pp. ~tha). Knock down. Demolish. Throw down (as a
pull down, bring down. Destroy; fell; raze. (O'Donaill, p. 759, Dineen, p.
640 Dwelly, p. 574)
Leagan, Vn., demolishing, knocking down, destroying, etc.
The American Barnhart etymological dictionary oddly relates the "lick" of
the tongue, from Old English liccian, to the "lick" of defeating, beating and
demolishing. "The sense of beat or thrash is first recorded in 1535, the
extended sense of overcome or defeat is found in 1800. -- licking, n., beating
or thrashing (1756)." (Barnhart, p. 593).
CHUCK: (puts his drink on the bar and clenches his fists) “Yeah! Wanta make
sometin’ of it? (Jeeringly) Don’t make me laugh! I can lick ten of youse
wid one mit!” (O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh, p. 671)
ANNA: “Don’t you see I’m licked? Why do you want to go on kicking me.”
(O'Neill, Anna Christy, p. 72)
YANK: “Home was a licking for me dat’s all. But you can bet your shoit no
one’s ever licked me since. Wanter try it any of youse?” (O'Neill, The
Hairy Ape, p. 211).
LEAG AS ‘LICK’ -- Leagan as Lickin' (knocking down, demolishing)
Irish-born Heavyweight champion, John "Old Smoke" Morrissey, Tammany Big
"Shot" (Seod, pron, shod, big chief, a warrior, fig. a wealthy man)
congressman, Faro banker, casino magnate, and owner of the world-famous Saratoga
racetrack, said it as succinctly as anyone, when he first appeared in New York City
in 1849, fresh from the riverside Irish slum (saol luim, world of poverty)
neighborhoods of Troy, NY.
"I can lick (leag) any man here."
Morrissey could take his licks, too. NYC Nativist paramilitary leader and
Catholic-hating fanatic, Butcher Bill Poole, bragged (bréag, to lie or
exaggerate) that he had once "licked Morrissey" in a fight on a downtown NYC pier
late one night in 1853. In 1855, "Butcher Bill" himself was licked (leagtha,
pp. (pron lag-ha, knocked down) permanently by one of John Morrissey's cronies
(comh-róghna, pron. cuh-rony, fellow-favorites) in the Stanwyck Hotel with a
.44 caliber slug.
Under the new dispensation, being handy with a gun trumped dukin'
(tuairgín, pron duarkeen, hammering: pounding, smashing) it out wit' ya' dukes (
Sixty tears later, around the same time Hickey returned to Harry Hope's
saloon, Owney "The Killer" Madden would "gun" his way to the leadership of the
Hell's Kitchen Gopher (Comhbhá bhfir, pron. Cowha-vir, Alliance of Men) Gang
and transform a collection of small Irish street gangs and local bootleggers
(búidealaí gar: local bottlers) into a Hell's Kitchen-based multinational
bootlegging empire. Today Madden would be a CEO or an Ambassador. Back then, he
was the duke of the West Side.
Like Morrissey, Madden could take a leag (lick), too. Only the licks Madden
took, like the licks he laid down, were lead. Owney Madden carried five or six
"Hudson Duster" slugs in his body until his death in the 1960s in Hot
Springs, Arkansas. When he died, Owney still owned a big piece of Hialeah
Racetrack in Florida, mirroring his predecessor, Heavyweight Champion John Morrisey,
and his financial stake in Saratoga Racetrack during the Gilded Age. Two
men, two similar investment porfolios; two different approaches to the Irish
American art of the "leag."
In the wildly popular Mulligan Guard musical comedies of the 1880 and 90s,
leag as "lick" takes first place as the most frequently used American-Irish
dialect word. The characters are constantly threatening to "lick" one another.
Men "lick" political rivals, wives "lick" husbands, and kids "lick" each
other. The play is also filled with comedic "licks" and musical "licks" laid down
(leag, to lay down) by the foundational Irish American team of Harrigan and
Dan Mulligan [Aside ] "Tommy, I'll lick him after the ball!" (Edward
Harrigan, The Mulligan Guard, 1878, no pg.)
In another Gaelic-American dialect classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, written by Twain at the same time Harrigan wrote the Mulligan Guard
plays, "lick" also takes top honors as the most frequently used Irish and
Scots-Gaelic dialect word.
"[Pap] told me to mind about that school, because he was going to lay for me
and lick me if I didn't drop that." (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, p.
Today leag is mainly a "lickin' on a child's behind" or a musician's lick
(leag, to lay down), laid down in a rhythmic or musical riff. That's my leag.
The Irish Studies Program
New College of California
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