A Lick and a Promise

Meanings of “A Lick and a Promise”

The phrase “a lick and a promise” means a chore done hastily, carelessly without any effort or an incomplete task. It is mostly used in terms of painting, tidying up things or for jobs like washing clothes.

Origin of “A Lick and a Promise”

It is stated that the phrase has been used in this meaning in Critical Reviews of the Annals of Literature for the first time. Later, Elizabeth Acton used this phrase in her book The Modern Cook in 1845 in this sense. She has given it present meanings as she has it as, “If you clean, clean thoroughly, having nothing to do with the ‘slut’s wipe’, and the ‘lick and a promise.’ Also, it was used in printed form in The Era, a paper, in its March 1848 publication. Note: Here, Slut’s wipe means Slut’s wool, which means accumulated dust, hair, fluff, etc.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

N – A Lick And A Promise by Gillian. E. Shaw

Together we climbed up the stairs
now come on matey’ Nanna said.
Once at the top both entered there
while she decided what to wear
so after while the sun streamed in
warm water filled the sink within
removed with care as one by one;
work clothes off afternoon clothes on;
‘Wright’s coal tar’ and the job was done.

Decision taken turned to say
‘a lick and a promise today’.
Donned soft clean vest; stiff long line bra
extra best support ‘cross your heart’
struggled with hooks and hauled it up
big, thick, white a double F cup.
Next in fact was just like murder
jerk, tug, yank hoisted the girdle!
Like clearing a major hurdle.

This poem states how, he, along with his wife, worked to wash the clothes and did the domestic chores. It seems to him a lick and promise type of chores as they did everything at the spot. However, by the end of the day when everything was done, it seemed to them that they had removed a big hurdle. However, the use of the phrase “a lick and a promise” shows that he thinks it is a trivial thing to do in the initial stage.

Example #2

Lick and a Promise by Aerosmith

Johnny come lately on a Saturday night
Singin’ how-de-do
Backstreet boogie in the house of delight
Where they steal the show
The money come sour but the ladies are sweet
And it’s a love affair
Whole place rockin’, people stompin’ their feet
When the gang’s all there
He gets his lovin’ every night for free
He’s out there rockin’ like you wouldn’t believe
I sing na na na na na
Na na na na na
Johnny liked to gamble with his lady Louise
She was a blackjack deuces are wild
He got to thinkin’ ’bout his nose in the breeze
Johnny looked and he smiled
He started thinkin’ bout the fortune and fame
And the young girls down at his knees
He dug the money but forgot all the names
So he knew just how to appease
Lick and a promise
Lick and a promise
Lick and a promise
He gave the ladies a lick and a promise
Lick and a promise
He gave the ladies a lick and a promise

This is lyric sung by Aerosmith narrates the story of Johnny, who is fascinated by seeing women engaged in love and parties. He lives a typical rock and roll lifestyle without being serious about life. The use of ‘a lick and a promise’ shows that Johnny does all his job carelessly, including his relationship with the ladies.

Example #3

From the Story “The Old House at Home” by Joseph Mitchell from The New Yorker

This is the classic story of old John McSorley, who owns a bar in New York. The writer, Mitchell, describes the atmosphere of the bar in this paragraph using this phrase in the first line.

“The saloon opens at eight. Mike gives the floor a lick and a promise and throws on clean sawdust. He replenishes the free-lunch platters with cheese and onions and fills a bowl with cold, hard-boiled eggs, five cents each. Kelly shows up. The ale truck makes its delivery. Then, in the middle of the morning, the old men begin shuffling in. Kelly calls them “the steadies.” The majority are retired laborers and small businessmen.”

The use of this phrase shows the hasty work done by McSorley before welcoming his customers.

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Example #1: “He gave the house a lick and promise because the guests are coming. Otherwise, he has never done anything else.” The phrase has been used in the metaphorical sense of cleaning.

Example #2: “Like a lick and a promise, he starts studying very early but does not remember anything.” Here the phrase has been used as a simile as the start has been compared to the phrase a lick and a promise or doing things in a hurry.

Example #3: “A lick and a promise or a promise and a lick; if word changes, the meanings become highly different though the purpose of reversing is served.” Here the phrase has been used as a chiasmus as the place of the phrases have been reversed.

Example #4: “A-lick-and-a-promise work does not serve the purpose; this painting needs exhaustive hard work to show its true colors.” Here the phrase has been used as a metaphor as it is showing the work.

Example #5: “The invention of the airplane by Wright brothers was merely a lick and promise as it did not bring a revolution in traveling.” Here the phrase has been used to make this sentence an understatement as it shows that Wright Brothers have not done anything serious.