What does the phrase “to lick into shape” mean and Where does it come from?

This we do when we take something formless or not fully in readiness to meet the critical eyes of the world and put it into form or make it ready.

The saying comes from the ancient belief that, to quote from the unknown translator (about 1400) of de Guilleville’s “The pylgremage of the sowle”, “Beres (bears) ben brought forthe al fowle and transformyd (are born all foul and shapeless) and after that by lyckynge of the fader and moder (by licking of the father and mother) they ben brought in to theyr kyndely shap.”

The belief, probably arising from the fact that, at birth, the cubs are hairless and very small, as well as the fact that the mother usually keeps them concealed in her remote den for four or five weeks, is of great antiquity.

The saying was used by the Roman writer, Donatus, in discussing the great care taken by Virgil when writing his Georgics. He said: “Cum Georgica scriberet, traditur coddie meditatos mane plurimos versus dictare solitus ac per totum diem retractando ad paucissimos redigere, non absurde carmen se more ursae parere dicens et lambendo demun effingere.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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