Lickety-Split —Its Meaning and Origin


To do something “lickety-split” is to do it quickly, without delay. That’s what this phrase means.

Example: The radiator in your car is busted, but don’t worry, I’m an experienced car mechanic. I’ll have it fixed lickety-split for you. (In other words, he’ll fix it really fast.)

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Right off the bat
2. In a jiffy
3. As fast as greased lightning

Origin Of Lickety-Split

Not much is known about this phrase and how it originated. The word ‘lickety’ looks like it derives from the word lick. Then, for some reason, the verb ‘split’ got attached to the end of it. Looking at history, this saying goes back to at least the mid-19th century. For example, it was written in the newspaper Adams Sentinel, 1847:

“On we went, lickity-split, the harrycame blowed harder, the timbers began to creak, the sails split to ribbons, some of the spars begun to snap and go by the board, and then all at once there was a terrible cry, ‘breakers ahead!’ “

In the quote above, it mentions a “harrycame.” I checked the newspaper twice to make sure it was spelled like this. It was, but I don’t think this is actually a word. After looking at the context of the quote in the newspaper, it looks like this word was supposed to be “hurricane,” because that fits with everything else. Probably just a misspelling. Anyways, more to the point, the expression is clearly seen in this newspaper which means its at least 170 years old.

Example Sentences

  1. I slept in because my alarm didn’t go off when it was supposed to. So now I woke up later than I wanted to and my dentist appointment is in 20 minutes! Unless I get ready lickety-split, I’ll going to be late.
  2. Tod’s car is in bad shape. Every time he drives, it makes a clanking sound. Something must be seriously wrong, so he took it to an auto shop to have it inspected. He was told that the problem was not serious and that they’ll have it fixed lickety-split.

Note: We have the meanings of phrases — hundreds of them, in fact! But what about their origin? Well, sometimes these are known, but other times they are not. So what’s provided in cases of the latter? Usually, one of two things will happen: On the phrase’s page, there might be an explanation that talks about how a particular expression may have originated.
If you see no explanation on the page, then there will probably still be a quote on there. These quotes typically contain the oldest known appearance of the phrase in print. These quotes often come from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago. This by no means confirms that the phrase originates from said newspapers, poems, or books. In all likelihood, if a certain expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying at the time and is thus older.

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