Licking Things: A History


WITH THE EXCEPTION of those poor souls who have had their tongues removed by agents of the Inquisition, or those who through some unfortunate congenital deformation were born without a tongue, everybody loves licking things. Home to five thousand taste buds and sixteen muscles capable of working individually or in groups, the possibilities of the tongue are only limited by the imagination. In the litany that follows it is my intention neither to praise nor to vilify, neither to clarify nor to obfuscate, neither to encourage nor dissuade. As to the reliability or usefulness of these entries I can make no claim. I wish only to provide a handy guide for those who, like me, often find themselves with their tongues out, wondering “What next?”



The earliest lollipops were eaten in caves, by cavemen, and they represent a practical solution to a problem: how do you get the honey out of the hive without getting stung? Cavemen, we now know, were addicted to honey, and beehives were plentiful in the Stone Age. Not wanting to get too close to the bees, the cavemen would stand well back from the hive and collect the honey on a twig. They would then sit in the cave licking the honey off the end of the twig, listening to the incessantly echoing drip-drip-drip, fantasizing about women with broad hips, occasionally doing charcoal sketches on the walls, primarily of women with broad hips. This went on for eons. We see the practice refined by the ancient Chinese, the Arabs, and the Egyptians, all of whom preserved fruits in honey. They would spear a preserved plum, for instance, and pull it out of the honey, and then walk around licking the honey off the plum on the stick, looking at pyramids and occasionally beheading people who didn’t grovel enough. The first candies that really resemble the lollipop appear in the Middle Ages, when the nobility take to eating lumps of boiled sugar with little tongs. By the 1700’s, as the price of sugar comes down, the treat is democratized: street vendors in London start jamming sticks into the sugar lumps and selling them off the backs of carts. Dentists start living in nicer houses.

At the end of the 18th century the word ‘lollipop’ first appears in the English lexicon. The term translates as ‘tongue slap,’ as the word for ‘tongue’ in Northern England is ‘lolly’ and ‘pop’ means ‘slap.’

By the time of the American Civil War we see begin to see hard candy on the ends of pencils, but it is during the industrial revolution that the modern paper-stick lollipop arrives, following the introduction of sophisticated mass-production techniques. In Racine, Wisconsin, in 1908, the first automated lollipop machine is introduced by the Racine Confectionary Machine Company. The device inserts sticks into molten globs of hard candy at the rate of 2,400 an hour. Around the same time, Russian immigrant Samuel Born also invents a machine that inserts sticks into hard candy, called the Born Sucker Machine. But it is George Smith of New Haven, Connecticut, owner of a candy company called the Bradley Smith Company, who first trademarks the name ‘lollipop’. According to Smith, he named the candy after the famous racehorse Lolly Pop.

By the mid-thirties Shirley Temple is singing about magical boats full of lollipops, and the sinister Lollipop Guild begins to make its presence felt in the world of organized crime.



To lick one’s wounds is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “to recover from defeat or disappointment,” yet human saliva contains a host of antibacterial and antiviral compounds, including the enzymes lysozyme and peroxidase, which are known to inhibit viral growth and promote healing.

In 2005, 34-year-old Oregon school teacher Scott Reed was publicly reprimanded for licking several students’ wounds.

“Reed gave students a pep talk about a coach who had licked and healed players’ wounds so that they could rejoin the game. After the talk, he bent down and licked a cut on a track athlete’s knee,” the commission said.

Reed was sentenced to two years of probation and required to attend a class on the risks of blood-borne pathogens.


FINGERS- to separate items from a STACK:

The guy at CitiStop always licks his fingers to separate the plastic bags from the stack. He calls me sailor. I walk up to the register and he’s always like “Hey, sailor.” He’s got a Marine Corps tattoo—USMC—on his biceps, an amateur job in blue ink. He’s a likeable, homey guy with a white handlebar mustache, always hocking up loogies and re-swallowing them. He’s a smoker. Is it lung tar? Or something more malignant? Anyway he licks his fingers to separate the plastic bags from the stack, and you don’t want to touch the bag after he’s licked his fingers, but he’s a nice guy, and he served his country, so you take it from him when he hands it to you, and you thank him, and you go home with his spit on your bag.



Before the creation of the world, amidst the ice blocks of the abyss, Ymir the ice-giant, personification of the frozen ocean, was born out of the gathering layers of hoarfrost. Starving, searching for something to eat, he encountered the divine cow Audhumla, from whose udders flowed four immense rivers of milk. Ymir greedily drank the milk and, soon sated, lay down for a nap. Audhumla was hungry too, and she began to lick the cosmic salt ice off a nearby ice-block. She continued to lick until she gave form to Buri, ancestor of the gods and grandfather of Odin. On the first day as Audhumla licked, Buri’s hair appeared from the ice, on the second day his head appeared, and on the third day he stepped forth from the ice, complete. Meanwhile, in his sleep, Ymir the ice giant gave birth to a son and a daughter from the perspiration under his armpit, while his feet produced the six-headed giant Thrudgelmir:

Under the armpit grew,

‘Tis said of Hrim-thurs,

A girl and a boy together;

Foot with foot begat,

Of that wise Jötun,

A six-headed son.



After several years of lagging sales, the heavy rock band KISS came to the conclusion that it wasn’t about fantasy mime makeup or pyrotechnics shows, it was about the music. They were mistaken. Nevertheless, their 1983 album Animalize offered more than just feeble double entendre, it added to the sum of world poetry with the chart-topping single “Lick It Up”:

Don’t wanna wait ’til you know me better

Let’s just be glad for the time together

Life’s such a treat and it’s time you taste it

There ain’t a reason on earth to waste it

It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself


Lick it up, lick it up, it’s only right now

Lick it up, lick it up, ooh yeah

Lick it up, lick it up, come on, come on

Lick it up, lick it up

Don’t need to wait for an invitation

You gotta live like you’re on vacation, etc.

Not just a catchy tune, but also useful advice. One must truly live, and not be bashful about licking things, to truly experience what life tastes like.

It tastes like leather pants and ball-sweat.



The Japanese, always innovative . . . I can’t go on. Just click the link.



Contrary to assertions made in “The Invitations” (Seinfeld: season 7, episode 24,) wherein George’s fiancée Susan dies from licking the poisonous glue on flaps of inexpensive envelopes, gum arabic is non-toxic and delicious. A compound derived from the hardened sap of the acacia tree, it is also found in marshmallows and shoe polish.



One of the earliest recorded references to fellatio is found in the Isis and Osiris myth of ancient Egypt. Set killed his brother Osiris and cut his body into fourteen pieces which he then scattered across the country so that Isis could never find them. She was able to locate every piece except Osiris’s penis, which had sunk to the bottom of the Nile, where it was eaten by Sobeck the crocodile. Isis fashioned a replacement for him out of reeds and clay, which she then “blew” life back into. Some scholars believe that the earliest reference to cunnilingus is to be found in Verse 16, Chapter 4 of The Song of Songs:

Awake, O north wind, And come, wind of the south; Make my garden breathe out fragrance, Let its spices be wafted abroad. May my beloved come into his garden and eat its choice fruits!



Genius is elusive, but you can improve your chances of producing groundbreaking paintings if you mix up your own pigments and lick your paintbrushes. Cadmium, cobalt, lead, and mercury are heavy metal paint ingredients that are believed to cause a wide range of psychoses.



Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was a wealthy and influential court painter to Charles IV. He painted portraits of the King and Queen, the nobles of the royal family, and scenes of courtly life. He painted landscapes and still lifes and portraits of Spanish Majas. He was considered talented, if somewhat stylistically conventional.

Until he started mixing his own paints.

In 1792, while riding in a stagecoach through Andalusia, he succumbed to a mysterious illness and passed into a coma. When he came to, he was partially paralyzed and deaf. He experienced vertigo, paranoid delusions, and fantastic visions- what are now recognized as indicators of heavy metal poisoning. Even though he had lost his hearing, he said he heard noises in his mind, and he feared he was going insane. This paranoia prompted a series of dark paintings set in the wards of lunatic asylums. Soon he became obsessed with grotesque imagery: devils and witches, mutilations and castrations, swarms of bats and owls. He recovered his health in time, but suffered regular bouts of mental illness for the rest of his life, each of which coincided with periods of increased artistic output, when his exposure to toxins was high. When he got sick he would have to stop painting, which allowed the chemicals in his body to drop below toxic levels.



Who doesn’t like the taste of sweat, other people’s spit, bottom shelf tequila, and suntan lotion?



The Popsicle was unintentionally invented by a forgetful eleven-year-old San Franciscan named Frank Epperson in 1905. An idle boy, who really didn’t deserve all the nice things done him, left a glass of soda pop out on the back porch with a stick in it. The mercury dipped below zero that night and the soda pop froze. Even though it might easily have cracked the glass, Frank insisted that the occurrence was nothing short of miraculous. Running it under a tap, he discovered he could remove the soda chunk from the glass and eat it off the stick. It took him seventeen years to get anyone to care, but he finally capitalized on his irresponsibility in 1922, when The Eppsicle first went on sale at The San Francisco Fireman’s Ball. In 1923, Frank applied for a patent, later changing the name to Popsicle.

Since then they’ve made two or three different kinds.



Rowland Hill invented the adhesive postage stamp (“a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash”) in England in 1837. The first issue, the Penny Black, went into distribution in 1840. Ornamented with a profile of Queen Victoria, it cost a penny, and it was black.



In the 1950s, an irate television viewer called a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to complain about their television commercial. A man could be seen in the background licking the eleven herbs and spices off his fingers. “Well, it’s finger lickin’ good!” the manager of the restaurant said.

He kept saying it for the next sixty years.



In sewing, thread ends are commonly wet by licking to make the fibers stick together and thus make threading them through the eye of a needle easier.



From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998): Hunter S. Thompson (portrayed by Johnny Depp in a bald cap) is dropping some powder LSD in a bar bathroom when he accidentally spills it all over the sleeve of his red woolen shirt. A spaced-out longhair enters the bathroom and asks “What’s the trouble?” Hunter informs him that the white powder covering his sleeve is spilled crystalline LSD. As the hippie begins to lick the LSD off his sleeve, a conservative-looking guy exits a nearby toilet stall and witnesses the bizarre scene unfolding.

VO: “With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever, always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red woolen shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know.”



Margaret Thatcher was a member of the team that invented Mr. Whippy soft-serve ice cream.

“The patron saint of aeration is Margaret Thatcher. In the 1950s, way before she entered politics, Thatcher was part of a team of chemists working for Lyons investigating methods for preserving the foamy quality of ice-cream. They experimented with injecting air into ice-cream until the point of collapse and found that substituting vegetable oil for the animal fat naturally occurring within the dairy cream improved the emulsifying quality of the mix. The improved ice cream could hold more air, and long enough for it to freeze. This swirled up, foamy, frozen mixture of fat and sugar squirted out of machines as a premium product made with less material—an ingenious sleight of hand.”






Once the secret delight of idealistic young women in headbands and macramé halter-tops, bacteria cream has gone mainstream. The jostlings of its transport often coat the peel-off foil lid with product.



Brought to the silver screen by the inexplicably popular A Christmas Story, this is a particularly dirty trick that has made the rounds of schoolyards in colder regions. It often comes in the form of a dare. The only way out is pouring hot water over the pole to release the tongue, or removing the top layer of skin from the tongue forcefully.



During a period of intense artistic productivity, Vincent Van Gogh began to experience paranoid delusions. Living and working with Paul Gauguin in the little yellow house at Arles, the tension between the two had become unendurable. They bickered constantly. Vincent felt an increasing dread that Gauguin was going to abandon the studio. He had begged Gauguin to join him; to help fulfill his dream of starting an artist’s collective. Gauguin had been reluctant. He considered Vincent an overeager novice, but he had promised Vincent’s art dealer brother Theo that he would go and stay in Arles, on condition of being paid 300 francs a month. Now he often woke in the middle of the night with Van Gogh at the foot of his bed, staring at him, evidently reassuring himself that Gauguin had not fled in the darkness. A clash was inevitable. Versions of the story are conflicting: One account has it that one evening when Gauguin left the house for a walk Van Gogh came running up behind him shouting “You are silent, but I will also be silent!” He then handed Gauguin a newspaper clipping with the phrase on it “The murderer fled.” Vincent then turned and walked off. Another more dramatic version has it that when Gauguin heard footsteps behind him, he turned to see Vincent coming at him with a straight razor. Gauguin stood his ground, and Van Gogh, realizing the madness of his intentions, ran away. Whatever happened, Gauguin was concerned enough for his safety that he spent the night in a hotel. He found Vincent the next morning at the yellow house, unconscious and drenched in blood. Van Gogh had gone home after the encounter with Gauguin and sliced off part of his left ear with a straight razor. He had then wrapped the ear in newspaper, put on large beret, and gone to a local brothel, where he gave the ear to a prostitute named Rachel for safe keeping.

Vincent went to the sanitarium; Gauguin went back to Paris.

Two weeks later, Van Gogh returned to the yellow house, but spent the following month in and out of the hospital, suffering from hallucinations and paranoia. He believed he was being poisoned. The locals nicknamed him “fou roux” (red-haired madman) and the next month police evicted him on the basis of a petition circulated by his neighbors. Committed by Theo to the asylum in Saint Rémy, he “had fits of despair and hallucination” and tried to kill himself by eating paint. On July 27th, 1890 he walked out into a cornfield and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He died two days later.



Another from the childhood dare department, licking a square nine-volt battery tastes like burnt citrus and nerve-death.



One can lick one’s lips to moisten them, to express appreciation for the scent of cooking food, or to indicate sexual wantonness.



Hobnailed Jackboots, Mukluks, Wellingtons, Hip-Waders, Galoshes—all are delicious. Aren’t they? Well, you’re probably right. Did I say probably? I meant definitely. You’re definitely right. I’m sorry. I’m so stupid. Now you’re upset with me.



According to Freud, Mozart was an infantile coprophiliac, and numerous allusions to shitting on people in his personal letters would seem to bear this out. In 1782 He penned a canon in B-flat major entitled Leck mich im Arsch.



A fairly ubiquitous eighties commercial campaign for Pearl Drops Tooth Polish featured an attractive young woman running her tongue across her improbably white teeth and moaning with pleasure. Whether this had any effect on sales has yet to be determined.



Hey gals, here’s a glowing opportunity: The Radium Luminous Material Corporation is looking to hire 4,000 workers to paint glow-in-the-dark watch faces with their “Undark” Brand luminous paint. You might be curious as to why all the men in the factory are wearing lead coveralls, lead gloves, and lead goggles. No reason. Nothing is more harmless than Radium-226. Anyway, mass-produced camel-hair paintbrushes are notorious for losing their fine point after only a few strokes, so be sure to lick the tip into a point every couple of seconds. So what if radioactive isotopes replace the calcium in your bones, causing necrosis and marrow mutations? In 1928, The Radium Girls successfully won a lawsuit against The Radium Luminous Material Corporation, and they only had to endure a couple of years of company men insisting that the radium was safe and that they were just loose women suffering from syphilis.



Tongue kissing is baiser avec la langue in French. The practice is thought to have been introduced to the United States by troops returning from Europe after World War I, who learned it from a very naughty French girl named Chantal.



Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that snozberrys printed on wallpaper taste authentic.



The sexiest way to contract throat cancer is by smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Usually sold in pouches, the loose tobacco smells like moldering leather and horse barns. The smoker pinches the desired amount from a plug of loose shag and lays the tobacco out across a rolling paper while simultaneously separating the tobacco strands to improve aeration. He then licks the glued edge of the paper to moisten it and rolls the cigarette into shape with a twisting motion of the fingers. It is often the case that a cowboy will roll a cigarette with one hand while he’s riding a horse and shooting outlaws. My mother used to go on at length about how my grandfather could roll cigarettes with one hand, and if you couldn’t roll a cigarette with one hand, somehow you hadn’t turned out as masculine as she might have hoped.

Smoke Friends House in Shibuya Tokyo is a hand-rolled cigarette bar where sexy young women roll your cigarette for you. Because smoking a sexy young woman’s spit proves you’re important big man.



Often children will lay claim to lunch items by licking them.



Toad may never again return to Toad Hall, as he is being pursued through the Sonoran Desert by Phishheads in a dune buggy. Although he enjoys a considerable head start, Toad is a reckless driver and crashes his roadster into a Saguaro cactus. He takes off hopping. “Get that little fucker!” Indigo shouts, brandishing a machete as he leaps from the driver’s seat of the buggy. Starfish and Tom follow close behind. The sand gives way under Toad’s flippery feet, and they capture him easily. Indigo holds him fast as Starfish removes his Harris Tweed suit, his flat cap, and his driving goggles. “Now see here!” Toad shouts, “don’t you know who I am?” Tom stands nearby, useless, giggling like an imbecile. Indigo begins to stroke Toad under the chin to initiate his defensive poison reaction. “Unhand me! I am the village squire!” In his anger, Toad secretes a milky-white venom high in 5-methyl-N, N-dimethyltryptamine and bufotenin- hallucinogenic alkaloids. The three of them lick Toad all over the head and neck as he struggles against them. “This is unsupportable!” Toad fumes. Starfish, Indigo, and Tom’s pupils begin to dilate. They are overcome by waves of nausea, the sand under their feet seems to sparkle, the dunes around them seem to ripple and breathe. The clouds in the sky organize themselves into interlocking geometric patterns that writhe and pulsate. Toad realizes that it’s now or never, and hops away down a dried-up rain-gulley. “I’ve got goose bumps all over,” Tom says. Indigo can’t unclench his jaw, his mouth tastes like metal, his mind is full of sinister-looking animal traps. Starfish is no longer Starfish; she who once was Starfish has blended with oblivion. Tom begins crying. He wants to wear Mr. Toad’s skin. Or smoke it. He can’t decide. He runs around in circles shouting “Toad!” His voice seems to echo into eternity. Later, the trio becomes withdrawn, clutching themselves around the knees and muttering. Starfish can actually smell the scarlet hues of sunset as the night closes in. Three weeks later, Quechan tribesmen discover their desiccated remains.


About Lawrence Benner

Lawrence Benner squandered his early years as a punk guitarist and chapbook-slinging street poet in the Mission District of San Francisco. He did a decade as a subway musician in ex-Communist East Germany, worked as a zusammenfassung schreiber for the legendary Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin, and went on to write, produce, and direct three failed low-budget films for the independent production company Buried Pictures. (In reference to his 2002 film, Ether, actor Willem Dafoe scribbled, "Liked it" on a yellow Post-it note.) Mr. Benner has been a Weeklings contributing editor since 2012, and when he isn’t writing this bio, he can be found hard at work on his debut novel, Memorial World. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his common-law wife and three insubordinate cats.
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2 Responses to Licking Things: A History

  1. jmblaine says:

    KISS & King Solomon?
    This post is like, exactly JM Blaine demographic.

    Also, this verse from Song of Songs:

    Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine

    In the original language, “navel” is actually a word for female genitalia.

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