or nickle

[nik-uh l]

What does nickel mean?


Nickel is a slang term for "five" of anything, most commonly a five-dollar or small bag of drugs ... but it could also be a five-year prison sentence.

Examples of nickel


Examples of nickel
I did a nickel in Sing Sing for stabbing a sexist repairman.
@amylopan, June, 2017
The budget signed into law recently by Murphy didn’t include even a nickel bag's worth of revenue for recreational pot.
Randy Bergmann, App, July, 2018
Here we go. Birds are changing their Twitter name to “Griselda Blanco.” Shorty, you let your man use your credit card to purchase mini ziplock baggies from Amazon. Stop frauding like you and him are drug lords. He sells nickel bags of reggie to friends who “got him next time.” 😂
@DaKidGowie, January, 2018

Where does nickel come from?

The origins of the word nickel for the metal and element are uncertain, but it likely comes from a 17th-century German nickname for the devil … weird.

Nickel later became associated with the number 5 in 1886 when the coins made from the metal were worth 5 cents in the United States. Prior to that, nickels were worth either 1 or 3 cents. This 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 inflation, a nickel referred to five hundred 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 ten-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, usually weed or heroine. 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 member of a five-man defensive line in American football was known as a nicklback (no relation to the Canadian rock band everyone loves to hate, Nickelback).

Who uses nickel?

Nickel is most commonly associated with hip-hop and urban street culture, whether taken to mean a small bag of drugs or a five-year jail stint.

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, they 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. In the film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), 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, shootin’ up shit” by Convicts, “I Ain’t Going Back,” 1991). Skid Row in LA 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
In fact, nickel is often used generally to refer to all of the money someone has—as in, they took every last nickel of her savings.

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. How French.

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