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Take a Licking and Get Your Licks in

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Paul in Camden, Maine, has adopted a new pup, and the dog’s exuberant face-licking has Paul wondering about the many meanings of the word lick, which include getting his licks in and takes a licking, which refers to the act of forcefully beating someone or something. With roots that stretch back more than a thousand years to Old English liccian, meaning “to pass the tongue lightly over a surface,” lick has come to mean a variety of things, including “a small amount” and “to vanquish.” More recently, some youngsters are boasting about devious licks, stealing items from school and showing them off on TikTok. Lick is a great example of polysemy, the capacity for a word or phrase to have more than one meaning. This is part of a complete episode.

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