A lick and a promise

A lick and a promise is an idiom that has been around at least since the middle of the 1800s. We will examine the definition of the phrase a lick and a promise, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A lick and a promise means to do something with a minimum amount of effort, to do something quickly and haphazardly. The term a lick and a promise plays on a secondary meaning of the word lick popular several hundred years ago, meaning to clean something quickly. The promise portion of this idiom most probably refers to a promise one makes to oneself to do a more thorough job when more time is available. Interestingly, the idiom a lick and a promise is most probably derived from an older idiom, a lick and a prayer, which means a quick, haphazard cleaning. Today, a lick and a promise may refer to any situation where something is done quickly and not very well. When used as an adjective before a noun, the term is hyphenated as in a lick-and-a-promise.


Gainey’s brisk adaptation gives the first two parts of Shakespeare’s trilogy a lick and a promise before devoting most of the evening to the abundant armed conflicts in Part Three. (The Independent Weekly)

Subaru has given the XV a lick and a promise in a bid to keep it fresh until the arrival of an all-new model – that’s already been on display at this year’s Geneva show. (The Independent)

Those painters practice, however, a kind of juicy bombast (with Mr. Kiefer, more a charred bloviating), while Mr. Penck reduces his ingredients to thickened stick figures on lick-and-a-promise backgrounds, with titles no more enigmatic than newspaper photo captions. (The Wall Street Journal)

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