Posted by: Jack Henry | September 23, 2021

Editor’s Corner: A Lick and a Promise

Idioms are such tricky phrases when you are learning a new language, and in English, we have many idioms. An idiom is a phrase that means something completely different from what the individual words might indicate. For example, instead of saying “Building my new bookshelf was easy,” I could say, “Building my new bookshelf was a piece of cake.” The idiom “piece of cake” means “easy,” but none of those four words (a piece of cake) have anything to do with being simple or easy. That is the difficulty of deciphering idioms—the words in the idioms don’t really help you translate the meaning. Here are two that I like and their explanations. Both are from The Grammarist. Enjoy!

Dyed in the wool

When wool is dyed before being spun into thread (as opposed to after it is spun or woven into fabric), the color is profound and likely to last a very long time. From this we can infer the metaphorical meaning of the idiom dyed in the wool, which means profoundly, deeply ingrained, or to an extreme degree. It’s usually used in describing a person’s political, cultural, or religious beliefs or to emphasize their commitment to something.

The phrase is usually hyphenated, especially when it comes before what it modifies (e.g., he is a dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fanatic), but it can go unhyphenated when it comes after what it modifies (e.g., as a Yankees fanatic, he is dyed in the wool).

Example: I’ll be among those dyed-in-the-wool Royal enthusiasts waving my flag in front of Her Majesty herself outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. [Manchester
Evening News

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.

Example: 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)

My brother’s goats, Lewis (on table) and Clark (politely on the ground), are happy to give you a lick, but they certainly never make promises.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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