lick someone or something into shape

lick (someone or something) into shape

To return someone or something into acceptable condition or behavior, especially through direct, efficient, and practical means. The president won the election on his promise to lick the economy into shape by overhauling outdated or inefficient legislation. What he really needs is a mentor who will lick him into shape.
See also: lick, shape

lick (or knock or whip) someone or something into shape

act forcefully to bring someone or something into a fitter, more efficient, or better-organized state.
This expression originally referred to the belief, expressed in some early bestiaries, that bear cubs were born as formless lumps and were literally licked into shape by their mother. A bestiary was a treatise about different types of animal, popular especially in medieval times.