verb (used with object), nick·eled, nick·el·ing or (especially British) nick·elled, nick·el·ling.
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Words nearby nickel
ABOUT THIS WORD:
What else does nickel mean?
Nickel is a slang term for “five” of anything, especially a small bag of drugs costing five dollars or five-year prison sentence.
Where does nickel come from?
The origins of the word nickel for the metal and element are uncertain, but it likely comes from a 1600s German nickname for the devil.
Nickel later became associated with the number 5 in 1886 when the coins made from the metal were worth five cents in the United States. Prior to that, nickels were worth either one or three cents. This nickel spawned a whole new set of phrases and expressions: A nickelodeon, for instance, referred to a jukebox that played a song for a nickel or a movie theater that only charged that much for admission.
Over time, many things related to the number five came to be dubbed nickel. By 1946, nickel came to refer to five dollars in the US—and with some semantic inflation, if you, a nickel referred to 500 dollars by 1974.
Nickel, as in doing a nickel or “serving a five-year prison sentence,” was used as early as 1953. It was sometimes combined with dime for a 10-year sentence (e.g., doing a nickel-and-dime, or 15 years). This is not to be confused with nickel-and-dime as in a small-scale business or being ripped off with small up-charges.
By 1966, a nickel bag was referring to a $5 bag of drugs, such as weed or heroin. A dime bag, by contrast, was $10 of drugs.
The trend of naming things related to the number five wasn’t just limited to commercial products. By 1980, the fifth cornerback of a five-man defensive line in American football was known as a nickelback (no relation to the oft-maligned Canadian rock band Nickelback).
How is nickel used in real life?
The slang nickel, in its senses of a small bag of drugs or a five-year jail stint, is associated with hip-hop culture.
Served a nickel in Twitter jail.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) July 14, 2017
This association goes back decades to tracks like “Road to the Riches” by Kool G Rap & DJ Polo (1989) and “Flavor for the Non Believers” by Mobb Deep (1993). In them, the artists boast about the money they made selling drugs: nickels and dimes. A lot of rappers play on the literal and slang meanings of nickel like 2Pac in “I Get Around” (1993) where he raps: “Trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents (a dime and a nickel).”
These songs (and countless others) popularized the slang meaning of nickel for a bag of drugs. There’s some debate as to whether a nickel refers to a $5 bag of drugs or a fifth of an ounce (of cocaine). In the film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), the character Jay sells a nickel bag for $15, suggesting it’s a fifth—or he could just be ripping his customer off.
A subset of Houston-based rappers use the Nickel to refer to the Fifth Ward of the city, a historically Black neighborhood on Houston’s east side (e.g., “Still rollin’ through the Nickel …” by the group Convicts, “I Ain’t Going Back,” 1991). Skid Row in L.A. also sometimes goes by the nickname the Nickel for its section of Fifth Street.
Nickel also shows up frequently in the common rhetorical expression If I had a nickel for every time …
If I had a nickel for every time I got asked why I don’t have a boyfriend I would have $3
— Ruth Boteo (@ruthiepotato) July 21, 2018
Interesting, nickel is often used generally to refer to all of the money someone has—as in, they took every last nickel of her savings.
Fun fact: C’est nickel (pronounced nee-kell) is a common French expression meaning “It’s great.” It’s based on the way nickel, the metal, gleams bright.
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for nickel
I was already over forty, had hardly a nickel in my pocket and this was the biggest break in my life.The Story Behind Lee Marvin’s Liberty Valance Smile|Robert Ward|January 3, 2015|DAILY BEAST
Back then, when you made a movie that lost money, you lost every nickel.The Director Isn’t Done Yet: An Interview With Steven Soderbergh|Andrew Romano|August 1, 2014|DAILY BEAST
When the popsicle man came around, my mother gave me a nickel.James Lee Burke Talks About His Fiction, History, and the American Dream|David Masciotra|July 20, 2014|DAILY BEAST
In them days, you could get two loaves of bread for a nickel.Stanley Booth on the Life and Hard Times of Blues Genius Furry Lewis|Stanley Booth|June 7, 2014|DAILY BEAST
If I had a nickel for every time an Palestinian was paid under those terms, I wouldn't have any nickels.
In this locality the original rock is a peridotite, relatively low in nickel, which has been altered to serpentine.The Economic Aspect of Geology|C. K. Leith
"I won't go unless you give me a nickel first," he maintained, firmly.The Campfire Girls Go Motoring|Hildegard G. Frey
Three days: The blood ring is the prominent feature and is as large as a nickel.The Dollar Hen|Milo M. Hastings
Then he looked at the position of the sun and verified the fact that his nickel watch had stopped again.Banzai!|Ferdinand Heinrich Grautoff
But steels containing 18.64 and 29% of nickel behaved very differently.
British Dictionary definitions for nickel
verb -els, -elling or -elled or US -els, -eling or -eled
Word Origin for nickel
Medical definitions for nickel
n. Symbol Ni
Scientific definitions for nickel
Idioms and Phrases with nickel
see not worth a dime (plugged nickel).