For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.
According to Daniel Cassidy in his insane book, How The Irish Invented Slang, the word lick, as in to beat someone soundly, comes from the Irish word leag, (pronounced lyagg) meaning to knock down, to lower (of a sail) or to lay. The word leag doesn’t sound much like lick and there is no evidence for an Irish origin.
The truth is actually far more interesting, as well as having the great advantage of being true. Lick comes from an earlier expression ‘to lick into shape’ and this comes from the fascinating Medieval tradition of the bestiaries, where moral and religious lessons were read into stories about natural history. A tradition about bears held that the bear cub was formless at birth and had to be fashioned into a correct bear shape by licking. Thus, licking a child into shape came to mean fashioning a child in a moral sense by punishing it and from this came the meaning of giving someone a sound thrashing. This expression is found in other languages. In French, people sometimes refer to a badly-behaved child as an ours mal léché, a badly-licked bear!
I really don’t need to point this out, but the expression leag, when it refers to fighting someone, means to knock them off their feet. Punching your children out and leaving them stretched on the ground is not regarded as good parenting in Ireland any more than it is in any other country, so the inappropriateness of this claim goes way beyond pronunciation and meaning.