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It doesn't matter a lick

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on January 17, 2011 at 22:39

In Reply to: It doesn't matter a lick posted by Claire Houck on January 17, 2011 at 10:45:

: What is the origin of the phrase, "it doesn't matter a lick," as in, "It doesn't matter a lick if you beg or plead, for the court's judgment is absolute." How old is it? What's it refer to? Thanks!

"Lick" in this sense is at least two centuries old. The OED defines the noun "lick" as:

a. An act of licking. Hence quasi-concr. a small quantity, so much as may be had by licking; also lick-up. a lick of goodwill (Sc.), ¡®a small portion of meal given for grinding corn, in addition to the fixed multure¡¯ (Jamieson). Also (U.S. colloq.) a lick, somewhat, a bit (usu. in neg. contexts).
These are some of the quotations it cites:

1841: The polar man¨Eshall not have a lick of oil on Christmas Day.
1853: Everybody brought ¡®sunthin¡¯¡ªsome a lick of meal, some a punkin' [etc.].
1902: But all day yesterday an' to-day he hain't worked a lick.
1919: I was fool enough to argue with him a bit, trying to see if he didn't have a lick of sense.
1957: We had been complaining violently against an Irishman who couldn't cook a lick.
1971: His grandfather was a preacher and he couldn't read a lick.
1973: His wife Fanny can't cook a lick.
1973: If you've got a lick of sense, you'll mosey back into the woodwork.