Show Search Results Show Browse

Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

Hide Quotations Hide Etymology

Abbreviations Cite this entry

About this entry:
First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

LICK, n., adv., v. Also likk (Sh.). Sc. usages:

I. n. 1. As in Eng. Fig. in Sc. phrs.: (1) as saut as lick, very salty (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Slg., Fif., Lth., Ayr., sm.Sc. 1960), prob. from the stick of salt laid down for animals to lick when grazing; (2) calfie's lick, a “cow's lick”, an unruly tuft of hair (Bnff.12 1930); (3) lick-up, a scrape, fix (Lnk. 1825 Jam.); a quarrel, a “dust-up”. See also Lick-up, n(1) Sc. 1826 M. & M. Corbett Odd Volume 156:
They [porridge] are as saut's lick.
(3) Ayr.4 1928:
We had a bit lick-up yestreen.

2. A small amount, a little bit, the least particle (Gen.Sc.; Sh., Bnff., Abd., Ags., Fif., Edb., Ayr., Dmf., Rxb. 2000s); in Eng. only of things that can be smeared on; specif. a small measure of meal, esp. in phr. a lick of goodwill, a small portion of meal given as a kind of regular gratuity to the under-miller in addition to the multure paid to the miller himself for the grinding (Abd. 1825 Jam.).  Cf. Knaveship.Abd. 1699 A. Watt Kintore (1865) 42:
The deponent came to the milne of Kintore, and served under Geo. Catto, his brother, at said milne, and gathered up the lick.
Kcd. 1730 Urie Court Bk. (S.H.S.) 136:
Ane lippie meall for grinding five pecks of shillin, the other fifth being applyed for making the millers luk [sic] and goodwill the better.
Abd. 1749 Monymusk Papers (S.H.S.) 237:
If it comes to the mill they shall pay the customary lick of goodwill for the usual services.
Abd. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XV. 116:
They pay also to the miller a lick of goodwill, or a bannock, which tenants have sometimes allowed to be measured; and there are instances where another unmeasured lick has crept in. Even the seeds sifted from the bannock are sometimes paid.
Abd. 1814 Session Papers, Mill of Inveramsay Proof 3:
The multure paid is 1⅞ pecks of sheeling out of every 18½ pecks, with one half peck of sifted meal, by weight, for the boll of sheeling, as a lick of good-will, but claimed as due.
n.Sc. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads II. 99:
I wyte my minnie neer gaed by you Wanting mony a lick.
Ags. 1881 Brechin Advertiser (27 Dec.) 3:
An' as for gettin't upon tick, That's useless: nane will gie's a lick.
Ags. 1891 Barrie Little Minister I. iii.:
“You hulking man of sin,” cries Mr Dishart, not a lick fleid.
Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928):
A likk o' corn.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables 157:
There wasna a lick o' meal in the girnal.
Edb. 2005:
There's no a lick o coal in the cellar.

3. A hard blow, a smack, wallop (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc. and colloq. Eng. Very freq. in pl.: a thrashing, hiding, chastisement. Gen.Sc. For high or low lick in shinty, see 1888 quot. Abd. 1746 W. Forbes Dominie Deposed (1765) 31:
When he committed all these tricks For which he well deserv'd his licks.
Ayr. 1786 Burns To W. Simpson xxv.:
Monie a fallow gat his licks Wi' hearty crunt.
Edb. 1801 J. Thomson Poems 49:
He swore he wad gie him his licks.
Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 165:
At school that symbol o' extermination was ca'd Fozie Tam? … Every callant in the class could gie him his licks.
m.Lth. 1842 Children in Mines Report (2) 449:
I do not get the licks that teacher gave me at Craighall.
Abd. 1888 Sc. N. & Q. (1st Ser.) I. 200:
When the ball, or scuddie, as it used to be named, got into a ditch or other place where a free stroke could not be given, anyone was at liberty to cry out “Hiperell”. If the chance of getting a fair lick was hopeless, the one who cried out took up the ball, and asked if it was to be a high “lick” or a low. If the answer by the opposite side was high lick, the ball was thrown up, all engaged in the game watching a chance for a stroke.
Wgt. 1902 E.D.D.:
To work for one's licks, to behave so as to deserve a whipping.
Gsw. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie xx.:
If ye dinna get your licks in the school for bein' late in the mornin'.
Kcb. 1912 W. Burnie Poems 107:
And every time he got his licks He grew mair dense and dour.
Ags. 1945 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 333:
I was gey late for the schule that mornin', an' I was michty feared o' gettin' my licks.

Phrs. (1) to gie big licks to, (i) to punish (someone) enthusiastically (Sh., Bnff., Ags., Fif., Edb., Ayr., Dmf. 2000s); (ii) to do (something) enthusiastically (Sh., Bnff., Ags., Fif., Edb., Gsw., Ayr., Dmf., Rxb. 2000s); (2) lyin to the lick, see 1881 quote. (1) (i)em.Sc. 1992 Ian Rankin Strip Jack (1993) 153:
'Aye, you give him big licks, wee man,' he said into the telephone.
(ii)wm.Sc.1 1960:
He's giein it big licks, i.e. is getting on fast with it, is doing it in great style [of any activity].
Gsw. 1990 Alan Spence The Magic Flute (1991) 15:
'Anyway, we were practising up in my house. A wee jam session. Bye Bye Blackbird it was. I remember it well. We were wiring right into it. Giving it big licks. And suddenly there's a knock at the door, . . .'
Edb. 1994:
Noo she's taken up studyin she's giein big licks at the night school.
(2)Rnf. 1881 D. Gilmour Gordon's Loan 11:
Gordon's Lone has still the Grecian bend towards its west end, and runs easterly with the same gentle curve-"lying to the lick" finely, as boys say of a good shinty.

4. A smart pace, a burst of speed. Also dial. Eng. and U.S. Gen.Sc. Cf. v., 4.Bwk. 1809 in T. Donaldson Poems 135:
In comes young Nannie wi' a lick.
Abd. 1929 Weekly Jnl. (24 Jan.) 6:
They gang at sic a lick 'at nae driver can see faur he is or fat he's deein'.

5. A wag, scamp (Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. Gl.).Sc. 1724 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1871) I. 198:
And was na Willy a great Lown, As shyre a Lick as e'er was seen?

II. adv. With a heavy smack or thud. To play lick, to fall heavily (Kcd., Ags., Fif., m.Lth., Kcb. 1960).Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) vi.:
An' he cam' lick doon on the braid o' his back i' the gutter.
Ags. 1901 W. J. Milne Reminisc. 89:
He sprang richt aff the bank an' played lick i' the water.

III. v. 1. As in Eng. Sc. phrs. and combs.: (1) lick an' skail, n., profusion, abundance, extravagance in living (Abd.6 1910; Abd., Per., Slg. 1960); (2) lick-birse, see (14); (3) lick-fud, lit., lick-the-backside, hence fig. obsequious, toadying. See Fud, n., 1. and cf. (5); (4) lick-lip, fawning, wheedling (Uls. 1953 Traynor); (5) lick-ma-dowp, — -the-doup, = (3) (Ags., m.Lth. 1960); an obsequious, toadying person; (6) lick-my-loof, id.; (7) lick-penny, a greedy, covetous or swindling person or thing (Ags., Lth., Wgt. 1960). Obs. in Eng.; an obsequious, toadying person; (8) lick-spit, = Eng. lickspittle (Cai., Fif. 1960). Also attrib.; (9) lick-the-plates, a scrounger, parasite (Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. X. 185); (10) lick-want, famine, no food, going hungry, gen. in threats (Abd., Ags., m.Lth. 1960); (11) to lick aff, to clean out (a dish) or eat up by licking (m.Lth. 1960); fig. to obliterate, wipe out; (12) to lick an' lay down, to pay cash down, sc. in bank-notes; (13) to lick one's fingers, to help oneself surreptitiously, to pilfer (Wgt. 1960); (14) to lick the birse, to lick the bristle, of a cobbler in sewing leather. Hence lick-birse, a cobbler; fig. to be made a freeman of Selkirk, part of the ceremony involving the licking of cobbler's bristles dipped in wine as a compliment to the (former) chief industry of the town; (15) to lick the white out of one's eye, to cheat, deceive under the pretence of helping; (16) to lick thoums, to strike a bargain, from the practice of either party licking his thumb and pressing it on that of the other as a symbol of sealing the agreement (Uls. 1860 Uls. Jnl. Arch. VIII. 67; Wgt. 1960); (17) to lick (up) one's winnin(s), to make the best of a bargain, of a bad job.(3) m.Sc. 1822 A. Rodger Poems (1901) 205:
Mak' your lick-fud bailie core Fa' down behint him — not before, His great posteriors to adore.
(4) wm.Sc. 1854 Laird of Logan 248:
A dog … with lick-lip language and fond looks.
Ayr. 1892 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 215:
Lick-lip loons, wi' supple knee, Grew bein an' wealthy.
(5) Sc. 1724 Ramsay Ever Green (1875) I. 211:
Syne byndging and whyndging, … They dander and wander About, pure Lickmadowps.
Rnf. 1832 Fraser's Mag. (June) 602:
A lick-the-dowp Boswell to that colossus of learning, the Ettrick Shepherd.
m.Sc. 1998 William Neill in Neil R. MacCallum Lallans 51 17:
An you athoot the harns ti read an write
or speik ti lick-ma-dowps that beck an bou -
deaved wi the fletherin tales ye hear thaim tell.
(6) wm.Sc. 1837 Laird of Logan 284:
I am nane o' your lick-my-loof beggars.
(7) Sc. 1824 Scott St. Ronan's W. xxviii.:
Law is a lick-penny — no counsellor like a pound in purse.
Kcb. 1899 Crockett Anna Mark xxvi.:
The uncertainty whether ye will ever see hilt or hair o' sic deil's lickpennies again!
(8) Sc. 1847 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 279:
Liar, liar, lick-spit, In behind the candlestick!
Lnk. 1890 J. Coghill Poems 113:
Nae lordlin's lick-spit loon was I.
(10) Abd.28 1946:
If ye canna sup yer brose, ye can tak lick want.
Ags. 1950 Forfar Dispatch (8 June):
There's porridge, brose or lick-want.
(11) Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 128:
Clean to lick aff his crowdy-meal And scart his cogie.
Kcd. 1899 A. C. Cameron Fettercairn 207:
The last of the sect [Bereans] in Laurencekirk were two old women, and when one of them died the other feelingly remarked — “Wae's me! when I gang too the Bereans 'll be clean licket aff!”
(12) Sc. 1824 Scott St. Ronan's W. xiv.:
What for suld I no have a Corpus delicti . . . or ony other Corpus that I like, sae lang as I am willing to lick and lay down the ready siller?
(13) Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel iii.:
Laurie is as honest a lad as ever lifted a ladle, not but what I dare to say he can lick his fingers like other folk.
(14) Dmf. 1817 W. Caesar Poems 111:
O what a set o' mean lick-birses Unmencefu', shamless, dirty curses.
Slk. 1847 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 74:
The trade of the shoemaker formerly abounded so much in Selkirk, that the burgesses in general pass to this day amongst their neighbours by the appellation of the Sutors of Selkirk. When a new burgess is admitted to the freedom of the corporation a small parcel of bristles is introduced, and handed round the company, each of whom dips it in his wine, and then passes it between his lips. This is called Licking the Birse.
(15) Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 162:
O'er lang, in Troth, have we By-standers been, And loot Fowk lick the White out of our Een.
(16) Sc. 1773 Erskine Institute iii. iii. § 5.:
Another symbol was anciently used in proof that a sale was perfected, which continues till this day in bargains of lesser importance among the lower rank of people, the parties licking and joining of thumbs: and decrees are yet extant in our records, prior to the institution of the College of Justice, sustaining sales upon summonses of thumb-licking, upon this medium, that the parties had licked thumbs at finishing the bargain.
Sc. 1816 Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) IV. 321:
In the good auld times licking thumbs was the only ceremony necessary to make good a bargain.
Uls. 1863 R. Chambers Bk. Days I. 359:
In the parts of Ulster where the inhabitants are of Scottish descent, it is still a common saying, when two persons have a community of opinion on any subject, “We may lick thooms upo' that.”
Kcb. 1960:
Ye may lick thoums tae the elbows = you are well-matched.
(17) Abd. 1768 A. Ross Works (S.T.S.) 144:
Gin ye, when the cow flings, the cog cast awa', Ye may see where ye'll lick up your winning o't.
Ags. 1776 C. Keith Farmer's Ha' 19:
But now let us our winning lick, (He cry'd in pet).
Ayr. 1790 Burns O, Merry hae I been ii.:
Bitter in dool, I lickit my winnins O' marrying Bess, to gie her a slave.

2. To take a pinch or small amount of something, specif. of snuff (Uls. 1953 Traynor) or meal. Cf. n., 2.Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 47:
Lugg'd out his mill an' licket sneeshin.
Abd. c.1830 Robin Hood and the Beggar in Child Ballads No. 134 lxxxvii.:
The mill it is a meatrif place, They may lick what they please.

3. As in slang Eng.: to wallop, thrash (Sc. 1808 Jam.); to beat, surpass, overcome (Ib.). Gen.Sc.Ayr. 1785 Burns 2nd Ep. to Davie iii.:
An' gif it's sae, ye sud be licket Until ye fyke.
Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 65:
The Turk's been licket by the Greek.
Kcb. 1893 Crockett Raiders v.:
Puir lad that you an' my stepfaither lickit till he was black an' blue.
Rxb. 1921 Kelso Chron. (28 Oct.) 4:
Yire waur than a bairn, ye suld be lickit.

4. To hasten, hurry (ne.Sc., Ags., m.Lth., Ayr., sm.Sc., Uls. 1960). Cf. n., 4.Bnff. 1856 J. Collie Poems 124:
Sae aff gaed Death what he cou'd lick.
Hdg. 1903 J. Lumsden Toorle 76:
Jock! lick awa' in, an' blaw up.
Uls. 1953 Traynor:
To lick along, to go fast; As hard as one can lick, as fast as one can go.

You may wish to vary the format shown below depending on the citation style used.

"Lick n., adv., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



Hide Advanced Search

Browse SND: