1. a small notch, groove, chip, or the like, cut into or existing in something.
  2. a hollow place produced in an edge or surface, as of a dish, by breaking, chipping, or the like: I didn't notice those tiny nicks in the vase when I bought it.
  3. a small dent or wound.
  4. a small groove on one side of the shank of a printing type, serving as a guide in setting or to distinguish different types.
  5. Biochemistry. a break in one strand of a double-stranded DNA or RNA molecule.
  6. British Slang. prison.
verb (used with object)
  1. to cut into or through: I nicked my chin while shaving.
  2. to hit or injure slightly.
  3. to make a nick or nicks in (something); notch, groove, or chip.
  4. to record by means of a notch or notches.
  5. to incise certain tendons at the root of (a horse's tail) to give it a higher carrying position; make an incision under the tail of (a horse).
  6. to hit, guess, catch, etc., exactly.
  7. Slang. to trick, cheat, or defraud: How much did they nick you for that suit?
  8. British Slang.
    1. to arrest (a criminal or suspect).
    2. to capture; nab.
    3. to steal: Someone nicked her pocketbook on the bus.
  1. 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. 2018

Related Words for nicking

knock, cut, indent, dent, damage, mark, slit, score, dint, jag, mill, notch, scar

Examples from the Web for nicking

Contemporary Examples of nicking

Historical Examples of nicking

  • I says, 'anything from plowing to threshing and nicking a nag's tail,' I says.

    A Son of Hagar

    Sir Hall Caine

  • For the young man was nicking him over the shins with the rim of the book cover.

    The Longest Journey

    E. M. Forster

  • To pile in a number means the nicking of china, and scratching of silver.

  • This nicking of swans on the river was formerly a matter of great state.

  • The custom of shaving and nicking the head of a fool is very old.

    Folk-lore of Shakespeare

    Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer

British Dictionary definitions for nicking


  1. a small notch or indentation on an edge or surface
  2. a groove on the shank of a printing type, used to orientate type and often to distinguish the fount
  3. British a slang word for prison, police station
  4. in good nick informal in good condition
  5. in the nick of time at the last possible moment; at the critical moment
  1. (tr) to chip or cut
  2. (tr) slang, mainly British
    1. to steal
    2. to take into legal custody; arrest
  3. (intr often foll by off) informal to move or depart rapidly
  4. to divide and reset (certain of the tail muscles of a horse) to give the tail a high carriage
  5. (tr) to guess, catch, etc, exactly
  6. (intr) (of breeding stock) to mate satisfactorily
  7. 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


  1. 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 nicking



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

nicking in Medicine


  1. A localized constriction in blood vessels of the retina of the eye.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with nicking


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.