A cat "laps up" milk from a saucer. But can "lick up" be used instead?

The cat's licking up milk from the saucer.

Can they be used interchangeably in this context? And are they equally likely to be used?


No, licking is not about drinking, although a cat uses its tongue for both. Merriam-Webster has

lap verb (2)
1a: to take in (food or drink) with the tongue
a cat lapping milk from a dish

However the cat might "lick the dish clean" to finish, but that is different from drinking. When drinking, a cat forms its tongue into a kind of spoon shape to scoop up the liquid, which is much more efficient than licking. So it's not just a different word, but a different action too.

There is also the associated phrase lap up about which Merriam-Webster has

lap up transitive verb
1 to respond to enthusiastically or accept eagerly
she simply lapped up admiration

Associated with lick is lick up which is a slang phrase. A dictionary of Slang has

lick up Verb.
To fawn, to be obsequious.
She licked up to the teacher and got a grade A in her English language test.

  • However, if you spilled milk on the floor, you might well say that the cat was licking up the milk that you spilled. That's to say that it was licking the milk from the floor. Mar 9 '20 at 19:56
  • @RonaldSole yes, I guess that would be similar to the cat licking the last of the milk from a dish, becuase it isn't deep enough to lap. Mar 9 '20 at 20:00

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