In two shakes of a lamb’s tail

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In two shakes of a lamb’s tail is an idiom with a few variations. We will examine the definition of the phrase in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, a few phrases that are variations on this expression, when it first appeared and some examples of its use in sentences.

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail describes doing something quickly, with no pause. To do something in two shakes of a lamb’s tail means you did it very fast. There are two idiomatic sayings that are related to this term. One may be as old or older than the current idiom, in two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail. In fact, this idiom means something will not be done at all, as dead lambs do not shake their tails. Another related phrase that is in more common usage today is in two shakes. This is an abbreviation of the original phrase. All three of these expressions are prepositional phrases, as they all begin with the preposition in. While they were all once common phrases, in two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail is more or less an obsolete expression, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail is also falling into rare use. In two shakes remains fairly popular slang terminology, though it is not ever used in a formal sentence. Interestingly, a shake is an informal unit of time, originally named and defined by the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Familiar with the idiom in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, the scientists designated a shake to be ten nanoseconds. Being able to measure time in such small increments was necessary in order to describe a nuclear reaction. The earliest known publication of the expression in two shakes of a lamb’s tail was in Ingoldsby Legends by Richard Barham, 1840. The expression is almost certainly somewhat older than that, though the etymology is currently unknown. Synonyms of the idiom that may be found in a thesaurus are quickly, fast, rapidly, speedily. Note that the word lamb’s is spelled with an apostrophe, as it is a possessive noun.


Linus Roache’s cult leader Jeremiah Sand goes from sadistic to supernaturally sinister in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. (The Duluth News Tribune)

Get in on the lickety-splick trick to looking chic in two shakes of a lamb’s tail by shopping similar looks to Jennifer Lopez, Hailey Baldwin and Kourtney Kardashian here! (US Magazine)

Local distillery Tattersall Distilling has created an app in which you can pull up drink recipes in two shakes. (Twin Cities Pioneer Press)

This is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes, but if you don’t happen to have any of those lying around, you can make your own small batch in two shakes. (USA Today)

Want to know more idioms? Check out some others we covered: