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Meaning of “Lick Into Shape” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Lick Into Shape

“Arts and sciences are not cast in a mould, but are formed and perfected by degrees, by often handling and polishing, as bears leisurely lick their cubs into form.”—MONTAIGNE.

Words are frequently met in all languages the meanings of which have been totally changed in the course of time. The original and usual meaning of “lick” is to pass over with the tongue. as many animals caress their young. On examination, its use as a word of chastisement may show some relationship. The Hebraism: “His enemies shall lick the dust” may be responsible, for it signifies humiliation and even mortal defeat in battle. Among modern variations of this meaning are : “Well, I’m licked I” “That licks me !” and “They were licked into fits.” Perhaps this twist in meaning is due to an animal, when beaten to earlh, lolling its tongue, as it writhes in agony ; literally “licking the dust.”

To “lick into shape,” metaphorically, is not unrelated in idea to the foregoing ; for it means to take any beginner—in sport as in learning a craft or profession—and. so to train him (as a potter handles his clay, anon beating it as he moulds it) that he is fashioned and finally perfected by hard work.

The phrase can now be linked to its supposed origin, which is in a legend that the young of bears are born a formless mass of flesh and fur, and that their parents, by dint of continual licking, mould them to their proper shape. However much one may doubt this agreeable legend, many famous writers’ have long believed it. An early 5th-century author says : “Beres ben brought forthe al fowle and trans-formyd, and after that by lychynge of the fader and the moiler they ben brought in thcyr kyndely- shap.” Indeed, Shakespeare himself, in III Henry VI, III. ii, makes Gloster say : “. .. in every part like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear whelp, that carries no impression like the dam.”


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