Green’s Dictionary of Slang

lick n.2

[SE lick, a blow]

1. an effort, an attempt at something.

[UK]Cibber Life of Colley Cibber 31: Therefore, right or wrong, a Lick at the Laureat will always be a Sure Bait [...] to catch him little Readers.
[US]R.M. Bird Nick of the Woods II 89: I was squinting a long aim at ’em, hoping I might smash two of ’em at a lick.
[US]J.S. Robb Streaks of Squatter Life 106: He was puttin’ in the biggest kind a licks in the way of courtin’.
[US] ‘Joe Bowers’ Lingenfelter et al. Songs of the Amer. West (1968) 97: At length I went to minin’, put in my biggest licks.
[US]M. Thompson Hoosier Mosaics 123: He got down and prayed like a Methodist preacher at his very best licks.
[US]B. Harte Gabriel Conroy II 30: Gabe [...] jest comes along, accidental like, and, dern my skin! but he strikes onto a purty gal and a wife the first lick!
[UK]Illus. Police News 10 Oct. 3/4: She habitually talked slang , and made use of such expression as ‘getting left’ [...] and ‘put in his best licks’.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 82: It’ll be a short life and merry one [...] if we go on big licks like this.
[US]W.F. Drannan Thirty-One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains (1903) 107: I got out like a quarter-horse, putting in my best licks to try to reach a wash-out.
[UK]G. Stratton-Porter Harvester 149: Put in your best licks, my boy; perk right up and court her like a house afire.
[US]R. Goffin Horn of Plenty 141: Let’s go, Dipper [...] Give it a solid lick!
[US]Hughes & Bontemps Book of Negro Folklore 347: Says now one more lick fore quittin’ time, / An’ I’ll beat this steam drill down.

2. (Aus./N.Z./US) a (short) sprint; intensified as lick of one’s life.

[US]T. Haliburton Sam Slick in England I 221: Leadin’ off of two hosses [...] takin’ a lick of a half mile on a bye road, right slap a-head.
[US]H.W. Woodruff Trotting Horse of America 84: I shall take very good care that she don’t go that lick any farther.
[Aus]Kia Ora Coo-ee 15 Apr. 18/1: Camel broken loose, Corporal, gone for the lick of his life towards Wadi.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 340: I says I’ll go with him for a bit of a stroll. Oh no, he says, not to bother, and goes for the lick of his life.

3. (US) a rhythm or pace, spec. on the chain gang.

[US] W.T. Porter Quarter Race in Kentucky 104: He went up the opposite bank at the same lick, and disappeared.
[US]Sun (NY) 2 Dec. 31/4: I follered on at m’ bes’ licks, doin’ mebbe ten miles a hour.
[UK](con. 1929) R.E. Burns I Am a Fugitive 160: This working in unison is called ‘Keeping the lick’. [Ibid.] 174: The speed of the lick was usually sixteen shovelfuls a minute.
[UK]K. Mackenzie Living Rough 210: From sunrise to sunset we shovelled dust on the road. A big nigger sets the lick. Everybody had to work in unison.
[Aus]R.H. Conquest Horses in Kitchen 35: Most of the dancers [...] hurried off home at a dickens of a lick.

4. constr. with the.

(a) (US/US black/W.I.) the correct thing, the proper course of action.

J.J. Hooper Simon Sugg’s Advice 180: Trust in Providence – that’s the lick!
[US]R. Ellison Invisible Man 488: One of them started shooting. And that was the lick!
[US]S. Allen Bop Fables 54: So here’s the lick. Take this beat-up bovine to market.

(b) (orig. W.I.) the very best, the supremely fashionable.

[US]L. Durst Jives of Dr. Hepcat (1989) 5: The pad is loaded with hipsters from all fronts, mad aces in their places, cool chicks strictly the lick, fine and most bulling.
[US]Helen Humes ‘Million Dollar Secret’ [lyrics] And you want to get rich quick / Get an old, old man, girls And that’ll be the lick.
[UK]C. Newland Scholar 134: ‘Dis flat’s the lick,’ Sean told the couple, looking around, impressed by what he saw.
[US]Teen Lingo: The Source for Youth Ministry [Internet] the lick the best. ‘Man, those new shoes are the lick!’.
[UK]A. Wheatle Crongton Knights 87: Her baking was the real lick.

5. (later black) a turn, a ‘go’, an attempt; thus one-lick, once only.

[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 114: Who’s got first licks.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 104: Brandy Bottle hits thirteen licks in a row, and the last lick he makes is on a ten.
[US]H. Simmons Corner Boy 13: At a dollar a lick the square hit Spider four times.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 89: That ain’t the lick either.
[UK]C. Newland Scholar 46: Respec’ cuz, for that ironin’ lick.

6. (US Und.) a theft.

[US]‘Paul Cain’ ‘One, Two, Three’ in Penzler Pulp Fiction (2006) 13: He’d made the hundred and fifty grand lick in Quebec.
[US]L. Bing Do or Die (1992) 33: I do jewelry licks. I go in jewelry stores, jack ’em up.
[US]Ebonics Primer at [Internet] lick Definition: to steal something from someone. Example: Man we just pulled this lick at the store.
[US]‘Dutch’ ? (Pronounced Que) [ebook] With the money he got out of the lick, it was basically New York’s money he was spending.

7. (orig. US) a particular phrase of music, i.e. a guitar lick.

[US]Don Redmond ‘Shakin’ the African’ [lyrics] Cornet licks, red hot licks, they’ll mow you down!
[US]J.M. Cain Mildred Pierce (1985) 510: If they had the right hot licks on their first broadcast, they hit the big time overnight.
[US]Kramer & Karr Teen-Age Gangs 181: The jazz band took over from the sweet, and as the hot licks sounded Angel-O slid from Action’s embrace.
[US]L. Hairston ‘The Winds of Change’ in Clarke Harlem, USA (1971) 316: Just when the licks was coming good, she opens up on me again.
[US]A. Young Snakes (1971) 104: I wanna get down all the hip licks so I can get with the people that’s playin the hip licks.
[US]G. Tate ‘Knee Deep in Blood Ulmer’ in Flyboy in the Buttermilk (1992) 19: In between the strings oodles of cryptic licks that noodle towards unorthodox and unsettling pattern shifts.
[UK]G. Small Ruthless 218: Then there are the latest ‘licks’ (tunes) and ‘champion’ sound systems.
[US]P. Beatty Tuff 128: Gusto sat behind a small drum kit practising his licks.

8. (US black) a plan, an idea, a scheme.

[US]News-Herald 19 July 4/1: The power lobby got in its licks through a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee passing on the bill for funds for the Department of Interior [DA].
[US]R. Prather Always Leave ’Em Dying 114: They’ve got those recordings of Trammel’s own voice, his speeches and sermons and get-hot licks.
[US]‘Lord Buckley’ Hiparama of the Classics 11: He’s a carpenter kitty and he’s got his own lick.
[US](con. 1940s) E. Thompson Tattoo (1977) 163: That’s a tough lick.
[US]W. Shaw Westsiders 34: I had my little licks I did to make money.
[US](con. 1990s) in J. Miller One of the Guys 82: ‘I keep track of who’s doin’ what. I got an set up licks...Like who we’re gonna rob’.

9. fig. what one does, an action, one’s personal preference.

[US]‘Lord Buckley’ Hiparama of the Classics 10: They wanted to dig his Lick, you see, Dig his Miracle Lick!
[US]R. Price Ladies’ Man (1985) 177: Jobless. I kept waiting for a panic lick, but nothing happened.

10. (US black) an opportunity.

[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Airtight Willie and Me 35: You better just handle the licks you gonna get here in the joint.

11. (drugs) a puff on a crack cocaine pipe.

[UK]N. Cohn Yes We have No 222: He always said the Lord’s Prayer, just before he took a lick.

In phrases

hit a lick (at a snake) (v.) (also hit a tap)

(US) to make an effort; usu. in negative combs. implying laziness on behalf of the subject of the phr. e.g. He hasn’t hit a lick all week.

[US]C. Greer-Petrie Angeline Gits an Eyeful 2: They never hit a tap whilst they wuz thar [DARE].
[US]J. Conroy World to Win 261: He had not worked steadily for years, and the last two years he had not hit a lick.
[US]Z.N. Hurston Dust Tracks On a Road (1995) 569: He boasted that he had never allowed his wife to go out and hit a lick of work for anybody a day in her life.
[US]Criswell Resp. to PADS 20 n.p.: Hit a tap, lift a finger, lift a hand [DARE].
[US] in DARE.
[US]R. Wilder You All Spoken Here 170: Never turned a tap; never hit a lick: Never lifted a finger.
lick that killed Dick, the (n.)

(US black) the last straw.

[US]C. Himes Real Cool Killers (1969) 75: ‘Okay, Reba, that’s the lick that killed Dick,’ Ready said slowly.
[US]C. Himes Pinktoes (1989) 145: Wouldn’t that be the lick that killed Dick, race leader becomes turnabout?
what the lick read?

(US black) a phr. of greeting.

Drake ‘Ignant Shit’ [lyrics] Drizzy Drake, what the lick read.
Rick Ross ‘No. 1’ [lyrics] Hello, good morning, tell me what the lick read.