In the Nick of Time — Where did that come from?
Okay, who’s Nick and how is he always so perfectly on time?
There’s no mystery behind the meaning of, “in the nick of time.” It’s to arrive somewhere at exactly the right time, usually without a moment to spare. In other words, 20 minutes before I arrive anywhere.
The part of this saying that isn’t well known boils down to a single word: nick.
Nick isn’t just a name. In England, it’s slang for jail or being arrested. In the jail of time? Sounds like an episode of Doctor Who.
In Australia, if you’re ‘in the nick’ it means you don’t have any clothes on. And while there are lots of ways to talk about naked time, this isn’t one of them.
Even though there isn’t a clear definition that everyone can agree on, most people agree that ‘nick’ refers to a notch, or a mark, on a device used to measure something. Think of the lines on a measuring cup, the measurements on a ruler, or the marks on a… a watch!
A nick on a watch—or a clock—is the nick in question.
The original saying dates back to the late 1500s. I know. I didn’t think they had watches back then either, but I also used to believe the world was black & white before the 60s came along. (Pocket watches were invented in the early 1500s.)
It was a simpler saying back then. If you showed up without a moment to spare, people would say you were ‘in the nick.’ Due to a lack of clarity—and a group of Aussies that kept trying to get naked—‘of time’ was added.
Kind of a mundane legend to hear of. A part of me was hoping there was some bad ass gladiator that always seemed to show up seconds before some bad guy was about to do harm to the innocent. Foes fell as he swung his mighty sword and his name… was Nick!
If there’s a saying you’d like me to look into, leave it in the comments and do it IN THE NICK OF TIME!