To “lick the plate” means to eat every bit of a dish, either because of hunger or because of the deliciousness of the dish. The expression dates back to at least 1639 and the rhyme of Jack Sprat, who, with his wife, “lick the dishes cleane” or “licked the platter clean.”
It’s poor manners to actually lick a dish and the modern use is mostly figurative, as in something so delicious “you’ll want to lick the plate (clean).” “Makes You Want to Lick the Plate!” appeared in a 1934 print advertisement.
Synonyms for eat
1.To take as food
consume, devour, bite, chew, swallow, dine, feed, (...) eat like a bird*, nosh*, put on the feed bag*, pig out*, stuff one’s face*, feed one’s face*, chow down*, scarf down*, inhale*, lick the plate*.
Wikipedia: Jack Sprat
“Jack Sprat” is an English language nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19479.
The most common modern version of the rhyme is:
Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.
The name Jack Sprat was used of people of small stature in the sixteenth century. This rhyme was an English proverb from at least the mid-seventeenth century. It appeared in John Clarke’s collection of sayings in 1639 in the form:
Jack will eat not fat, and Jull doth love no leane.
Yet betwixt them both they lick the dishes cleane.
July 1848, The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Sicence, and Art, pg. 399, col. 1:
Another variation by Scott, on the same theme, runs thus:—
“I think I make no habit of feeding on praise, and despise those whom I see greedy for it, as much as I should an under-bred fellow who, after ealing a cherry tart, proceeded to lick the plate.” — Diary, 1826.
The Story Tellers’ Magazine
Whitey ate every bit of that pie, and when he had finished he licked the plate.
Them was the good old days, in Davenport, Scott County Iowa
By William L. Purcell
Davenport, IA: Pub. by Purcell printing company
After them little lads gobbled the ice cream they’d pull straws to see who’d lick the plate, the kid who got the long straw bein’ the winner.
The Swamps, a record of pioneer days in the Middle West
By Sigel Roush
Strasburg, VA: Printed by Shenandoah Pub. House
How I literally licked the plate for that last molecule of the juice!
23 March 1934, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, pg. 17, col. 1 ad:
Makes You Want to Lick the Plate!
(Booth’s Handbook of Fish Cookery—ed.)
Google News Archive
13 February 1951, Modesto (CA) Bee, pg. 13, col. 3 ad:
I’ve found kids don’t have eating problems if you flavor foods with real beef Bovril. Land sakes, they’ll lick the plate clean every time.
4 September 1962, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), “The Family Circus” by Bil Keane, pg. A5, col. 3 cartoon:
(A father is reading about Jack Sprat. The last line is, “AND SO BETWEEN THEM BOTH THEY LICKED THE PLATTER CLEAN.” A child responds—ed.)
“It’s bad manners to lick the plate.”
29 March 1964, The Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica), pg. 8, col. 1:
Serve him stewed peas and rice, and if you’ll pardon the vulgarism he’ll lick the plate, which if I may say so isn’t a nice thing for a solicitor and gentleman to do.
Google News Archive
22 June 1988, Nashua (NH) Telegraph, “Bring on the berries,” pg. 45, col. 2:
Very good. Judy tells me you’ll want to lick the plate.
12 February 1999, Chicago (IL) Daily Herald, sec. 6, pg. 16, col. 4:
Nestled on top of a rich caramel sauce, it was hard not to want to lick the plate clean.
Second helpings: down-home cooking for everyone
By Joanne Stepaniak; Farm Sanctuary (Watkins Glen, N.Y.)
Summertown, TN: Book Pub. Co.
They’re so delicious, you’ll lick the plate clean!