verb (used with object)


    in the nick of time, at the right or vital moment, usually at the last possible moment: The fire engines arrived in the nick of time.

Origin of nick

1475–85; obscurely akin to Old English gehnycned wrinkled, Old Norse hnykla to wrinkle
Related formsun·nicked, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for in the nick of time




a small notch or indentation on an edge or surface
a groove on the shank of a printing type, used to orientate type and often to distinguish the fount
British a slang word for prison, police station
in good nick informal in good condition
in the nick of time at the last possible moment; at the critical moment


(tr) to chip or cut
(tr) slang, mainly British
  1. to steal
  2. to take into legal custody; arrest
(intr often foll by off) informal to move or depart rapidly
to divide and reset (certain of the tail muscles of a horse) to give the tail a high carriage
(tr) to guess, catch, etc, exactly
(intr) (of breeding stock) to mate satisfactorily
nick someone for US and Canadian slang to defraud someone to the extent of

Word Origin for nick

C15: perhaps changed from C14 nocke nock




computing an alias adopted by a member of a chatroom or forum; nickname

Word Origin for nick

short for nickname
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for in the nick of time



1520s, "to make a notch in," from nick (n.). Sense of "to steal" is from 1869, probably from earlier slang sense of "to catch, take unawares, arrest" (1620s). The precise sense connection is unclear. Related: Nicked; nicking.


masc. proper name, familiar form of Nicholas. As "the devil" by 1640s, but the reason for it is obscure.



"notch, groove, slit," late 15c., nyke, of unknown origin, possibly influenced by Middle French niche (see niche), or from it. Nick of time is first attested 1640s (nick of opportunity is 1610s), possibly from an old custom of recording time as it passed by making notches on a tally stick, though nick in the general sense of "critical moment" is older (1570s, Hanmer, who adds "as commonly we say") than the phrase.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with in the nick of time

in the nick of time

Also, just in time. At the last moment, as in The police arrived in the nick of time, or He got there just in time for dinner. The first term began life as in the nick and dates from the 1500s, when nick meant “the critical moment” (a meaning now obsolete). The second employs just in the sense of “precisely” or “closely,” a usage applied to time since the 1500s. Also see in time, def. 1.


see in the nick of time.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.