Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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NICK, n.1, v. Also nic, nik(k) (I.Sc.), neck, and dim. nickie. Sc. forms and usages:

I. n. 1. As in Eng., now mainly dial.; (1) a notch, indentation, cut, groove, crevice, niche, recess (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc.; specif. one of the notches or rings on the horns of an animal, each of which indicates a year of its life (Sc. a.1838 Jam. MSS. X. 215; Ork., Ags., Per., Ayr., Kcb., Uls. 1964); a notch made in a stick as a method of reckoning, or to mark the passage of time; in the Orkney plough, that part where the handle, or Stilt, joins the beam at its bend to form an angle (Ork. 1814 J. Shirreff Agric. Ork. 51–2, 1866 Edm. Gl.); a sprocket in a wheel; in pl.: knuckles (Edb. 1875 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie Gl.). Ayr. 1786  Burns To G. Hamilton i.:
Scrapin out auld Crummie's nicks, An' tellin lies about them.
Rnf. 1813  E. Picken Poems I. 156:
May . . . ilka new nick on her horn Some added pleasure yield her.
m.Sc. 1838  A. Rodger Poems 308:
But sair she rued her pridefu' scorn, E'er thretty nicks had marked her horn.
Sc. 1849  M. Oliphant M. Maitland xiii.:
There's a nick in my stick to mind that New Year by.
Sc. 1858  D. Webster Sc. Haggis 44:
Ye wad hae thocht there cou'dna been a hale nick in either wheet or pinion.
Ayr. 1890  J. Service Notandums 42:
[To] cut a nick on the corner o't, to mark the level of the great spate.
Kcb. 1896  Crockett Cleg Kelly ii.:
His grimy little fingers found a purchase in the slightest nicks.
Abd. 1900  C. Murray Hamewith 8:
Routh o' swourds an' dirks a' nicks an' slaps.
Lth. 1925  C. P. Slater Marget Pow 48:
Outside the house there's a nick in the wall, with a kind o' copy of the Crucifix.

(2) Dim. forms: (i) nicket(t), a small notch or incision (Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems Gl.; Rxb. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl. s.v. nackettis); (ii) nickie, -y, an oatcake or bun with a series of notches or indentations made by the thumb round the edge (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Fif. 1964). Hence double-nickie, single- —, one with a double or single series of such impressions. Rnf. 1873  J. Nicholson Wee Tibbie 57:
A shinin' roun' cookie, forbye a wee nickie.
Fif. c.1875  :
A penny nickie was a round bun with currants in it, and nicked or notched around the edge, in great demand by ploughmen in Fifeshire.
Fif. 1897  S. Tytler Witch-Wife x.:
We'll not tell the Commodore till he has broken the back of his hunger with the single nickies. . . . But we must take tent to push the double nickies at once before the Lieutenant.
Fif. 1916  G. Blaik Rustic Rhymes 164:
Aroond the table laden Wi' mony a nickie, cake an' bun.

(3) Combs. and Phrs.: (i) a nick in (or on) one's horn, fig. a year of one's life (Sc. a.1838 Jam. MSS. X. 215; Gsw. 1838 A. Rodger Poems 308; Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie vii.; Kcb. 1964); also in pl., indicating greater age or experience. Hence nicket in the horn, advanced in years (Gsw. 1889 A. G. Murdoch Readings (Ser. 3) 108); (ii) a nick in the neck, a person's manifest weak point or peculiarity (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.). Cf. hair in the neck s.v. Hair, n., 2. (2); (iii) double nick, in phrs. to get or pay dooble nick, to get (or pay) twice the value (of anything) (Ayr. 1964). Cf. (v); (iv) nicket wheel, a sprocket-wheel; (v) nickstick, a tally, reckoning stick (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie vi.; Sc. 1849 A. Bell Melodies 65; Lnk. 1880 W. Grossart Shotts 116; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Also fig. and attrib. Hence comb. and phr.: (a) nickstick body, a very precise person, one who proceeds exactly according to rule (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); (b) to loss yin's nickstick, to make a miscalculation in one's reckoning, esp. in respect of pregnancy and confinement (Watson; Lnk. 1964); (vi) to keep the bands in the nick, to keep everything in order and ship-shape, to order one's affairs methodically and carefully, a metaphor from the bands in the groove of a spinning wheel and its flyer. Also in n.Eng. dial.; (vii) to pit a nick in one's stick, to make a note of as a reminder (Sc. 1896 A. Cheviot Proverbs 183). (i) Edb. 1828  M. & M. Corbett Tales & Leg. III. 321:
I doubt ye hae ower mony nicks in your horn to suit them.
Ayr. 1838  Galt in Tait's Mag. (Jan.) 40:
Although I have more nicks in my horn than you, I'm no sae auld as not to have a to-look.
Dmb. 1844  W. Cross Disruption xxxiv.:
If am no mistaken heel be a marrit man before he has anither Nick in his horn.
Sc. 1862  A. Hislop Proverbs 294:
There's ower mony nicks in your horn. That is, you are too knowing or cunning for me.
Fif. 1875  A. Burgess Poute 83:
Nane o' the twa were what ye may ca' bairns; they were baith weel “nickit i' the horn.”
(iii) Ayr. 1921  A. Murdoch Ochiltree 183:
As he entered the room where the minister was in waiting, he blurted out, “Purpose, am I to get dooble-nick?”
(iv) Bwk. 1863  A. Steel Works 210:
Her braw nicket wheel an auld mangle ance graced.
(v) Sc. 1700  Seasonable Precautions in Electing the Magistrates 8:
A good Accomptant who kept all his Accompts upon Nick-sticks.
Edb. 1761  Pitcalnie MSS.:
To one nick stick from Janry i 1760 [from a baker's account].
Edb. 1773  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II.123:
Creels wanchancy, heap'd wi' bread, Frae whilk hing down uncanny nicksticks.
Sc. 1816  Scott Antiquary xv.:
He was in an unco kippage when we sent him a book instead o' the nick-sticks, whilk, he said, were the true ancient way o' counting between tradesmen and their customers.
Dmf. 1822  Scots Mag. (July) 50:
Awa he gaed to flit the fauld, before Johnny and me had gotten the nick-stick thoroughly examined.
Sc. 1862  A. Hislop Proverbs 130:
He's a bodie o the nick-stick kind.
(b) Bwk. 1894  Hist. Bwk. Nat. Club XXIII. 127:
When a woman loses her reckoning, [she is] said to have lost her nick-stick.
(vi) Bwk. c.1800  Rymour Club Misc. II.133:
I've kept the bands aye in the nick, And dune my best, in every shape, To keep the house 'neath thack and raip.

2. A small box with a sharp blade inside into which a pointed quill was inserted in such a way as to make a slit in its nib when the box-lid was closed (Sc. 1926 P.R.S. Lang Duncan Dewar 128). Sc. 1827  Ib. 44:
To a Penknife . . . 2s. 0d. To a Nick . . . . 1s. 6d. ? Comb. nick-quill, occurs as an editorial emendation of MS. neck still in Burns Twa Herds xiv., presumably in an extended sense, = hair-splitter, quibbler.

3. A narrow gap or pass in a range of hills (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 357; s.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Gall. 1832 J. Denniston Craignilder 64; Ayr., Gall. 1964), gen. as a place-name, e.g. Nick of Clashneach, — of Trestran. Also in Lan. dial. Peb. 1793  R. Brown Carlop Green (1817) 112:
Ending in a swelling know, Formed by King Charlie's Nick.
Lnk. 1815  in A. Pennecuik Works 196:
The highway passes through a hollow of blowing sand . . . called the Sandyhill-Nick.
Ayr. 1822  H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 242:
In the nick o' the Balloch lived Moorlan' Tam.
Dmf. 1826  H. Duncan William Douglas I. xi.:
We . . . made the best o' our way up the nick.
Sc. 1883  Stevenson Silverado Squatters 66:
In the nick, just where the eastern foothills joined the mountains . . . was Silverado.
Kcb. 1893  Crockett Raiders xli.:
They would be up at the Nicks of Neldricken, or at the Slock of the Dungeon.

4. A broken-off fragment, a small piece, a scrap (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), nikk; Sh., Uls. 1964); a drop or taste of liquor. Ags. 1880  A. M. Soutar Hearth Rhymes 68:
I think ye'd better gie's a nick, My nerves tae steel ere I begin.
Sh. 1914  Angus Gl.:
I warran du hes no a nik a bacha aboot dee.

5. A cutting retort, jibe, jeer (Sc. 1887 Jam.). Cf. v. 3.

6. Prison, jail, the police station, the lock-up (Gen.Sc.); rarely a policeman. Cf. v., 5. and Eng. slang to nick, to arrest, apprehend. Phr. to get the nick, to be put in jail (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 207). Gen.Sc. Abd. 1820  A. Skene Poems 28:
Nae nick, nor fine, ye hae to fear.
Gsw. 1889  A. G. Murdoch Readings (Ser. 1) 78:
The policeman . . . was familiar with him as “the Nick”, “the Slop”, “the Scufter”, and “the Bobby”.
Edb. 1926  A. Muir Blue Bonnet i. ii.:
“I'll tak a thrashing instead of the nick”, said Hector.
Kcd. 1934  L. G. Gibbon Grey Granite 109:
The bobbies'll damn soon land you in the nick.
Sc. 1937  St. Andrews Cit. (30 Oct.) 5:
If any one else had done this, they would have got the “nick”.
Abd. 1949  W. R. Melvin Poems 83:
Bit gin they try that trick, They'll get the bloomin' nick.

7. A schoolboy word for the teacher's strap or tawse (Ayr. 1964), phs. rather a variant of Knick, n.

8. An act of trickery or deceit (Sc. 1887 Jam.). Cf. v., 6.

II. v. 1. To notch, to make an incision or indentation, to cut (Uls. 1953 Traynor). Gen.Sc.; to tear. Vbl.n. nicking, notching, fraying or cutting (of threads in a piece of woven material); a cut, segmentation; ppl.adj. nicket, -it, -et, -ed, nikket, notched, indented (Knr. 1891 H. Haliburton Ochil Idylls 42). Mainly dial. in Eng. Edb. 1772  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 92:
I'd rather be By sword or bagnet stickit, Than hae my crown or body wi' Sic deadly weapons nicket.
Abd. 1790  A. Shirrefs Poems 56:
I'd hae my throat nicket, Ere I were sae tricket.
Lnk. 1832  W. Patrick Plants 82:
The lower value of the blossom is bristled and nicked below the tip.
Rnf. 1835  D. Webster Rhymes 171:
Ye're excessive thin, ye're excessive for nicking.
Sc. 1844  H. Stephens Bk. of Farm II. 94, III. 1277:
The back . . . literally becomes nicked, as it is termed; that is, the fat is felt through the skin to be divided into two portions. . . . The nicking should extend all the way from the shoulder-top to the tail [of sheep].
Ayr. 1847  J. Paterson Ballads 77:
And his brow is nicket wi' care.
Per. 1857  J. Stewart Sketches 69:
Ye gallop the stang, Till your hurdies are nicket.
Sc. 1874  W. Allan Hame-spun Lilts 229:
Upon my back a ticht wee jacket That at the elbucks aye was nicket.
Kcb. 1891  M. A. Maxwell Halloween Guest 105:
Ye shouldna nick a stick on the Sabbath Day.

Combs. and Phrs.: (1) nickit bake, -bap, nikket-, a Bake or Bap having a notch across the top; also in reduced dim. form nicketie (†Ags. 1964). Phr. as auld-farrant as a nickit bake, — bap, of a child: old-fashioned, quaint (Bnff. (-bap), w.Lth., Kcb. (-bake) 1964). Cf. n., 1. (2) (ii); (2) nickit in the heid, temporarily deranged, “cracked” (Arg.2 1930). Also in n.Eng. dial.; (3) nickit in the horn, see n., 1. (3) (i); (4) nicket putt, in Golf, a putt or shot made when the ball lies in a shallow hole or depression; (5) nick-the-bane, a miser, niggard (Per. 1964); (6) to nick the bell, in a general sense, to be at fault, to commit an error. (1) Fif. 1894  J. W. M'Laren Tibbie and Tam 98:
Sic doonricht trash as nikket baps, nutmegs, cream, and apple jelly.
(3) Sc. 1937  Times (11 Dec.) 8:
Lord Dunedin referred almost casually to the half-dozen “nicked putts” that a player might encounter in a round.
(4) Ags. 1818  W. Gardiner Poems 22:
Some can haud a fair profession, Though they aften nick the bell.

2. To cut off or through, to snip. sever, to bite out, fig. to cut short, to make away with. Also in Eng. dial. Sc. 1721  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 162:
Excepting some, wha a' the leave will nick, And gie them nought but bare Whop-shafts to lick.
Ayr. 1785  Burns 3rd Ep. to J. Lapraik i.:
Now when ye're nickan down fu' canny The staff o' bread.
Per. 1816  J. Duff Poems 40:
Gude G — d! on what a slender thread Do great fouks' servants trust their bread. A thousand ways it may be nickit.
Lnk. 1873  A. G. Murdoch Doric Lyre 45:
May I be licket Wi' black mischanter's gnarled rung Gif your wee game, I dinna nick it.
Knr. 1917  J. L. Robertson Petition 27:
Short-goun an' sark Were hard at the wark Nickin' the barley doun.
Sc. 1924  R. W. Campbell Spud Tamson vi.:
They tell me it [horse] can nick the back oot o' a man's breeks like winkin'.

Phr.: to nick the thread, fig., to cut the thread of life, to kill (Lnk. 1827 J. Watt Poems 90; Ayr. 1879 J. White Jottings 194). Ayr. 1787  Burns Death & Dr. Hornbook xii.:
It's e'en a lang, lang time indeed Sin' I began to nick the thread An' choke the breath.
Lnk. 1827  J. Watt Poems 90:
Wi' rage an' spleen the thread he's nicket.
Sc. 1874  G. Outram Lyrics 31:
If mortal means could nick her thread, Sma' crime it wad appear to me.

3. To answer in a mocking, insulting, cutting manner (Sc. 1887 Jam.). Cf. n., 5.

4. To catch, seize, lit. and fig. (Gall. 1903 E.D.D.). Gen.Sc.; to seize by the neck, to “collar” (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 15); to snatch, grab, steal, poach; by extension, to kill, hang, “do for”. Also in Eng. slang or colloq. usage. Agent n. nicker, in phr. a nerr nicker, a narrow escape, close shave (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Abd. 1768  A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 40:
“I think”, quo aunt, “ye're fairly nicked now.”
Ayr. 1796  Burns To Collector Mitchell iv.:
Ye've heard this while how I've been licket, And by fell Death was nearly nicket.
Rxb. 1821  A. Scott Poems 157:
Thus was the bonny lassie trickit, And wi' the doctor's simples neckit!
Abd. 1826  D. Anderson Poems 69:
Some there ha'e gotten their pouches picket, Their siller an' their watches nickit.
Gall. 1896  Crockett Cleg Kelly xvii.:
We dinna steal. We only “nick” things whiles!
Gsw. 1909  J. J. Bell Oh! Christina! ix.:
If Miss McIndoe comes in again, ye'll be nickit.
Rxb. 1927  E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 15:
A'm fair drookeet; A was neckeet in that blatter o rain.
Ags. 1929  Scots Mag. (May) 135:
Dickmontlaw's grieve, “him that nicket you stealin' apples i' the orchard.”

5. Specif., to put in jail, imprison. Gen.Sc. Cf. n., 6. Abd. 1926  J. Gray Stray Leaves XI. 2:
It wis him 'at struck the blow, 'at I wis nickit for.

6. Fig. To cheat, trick, thwart, scotch, get the better of (Ork. 1929 Marw.; Abd. 1964). Obs. from late 18th c. in Eng. Deriv. nickery, cheating, deceit, used attrib. in quot. Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian xx.:
Three words of your mouth would give the girl the chance to nick Moll Blood [gallows].
Dmf. 1820  Blackwood's Mag. (May) 163:
I ken . . . how ye nicked me — an 'coost me, ye kutty, out o' a cozie half crown.
Lnk. 1827  J. Watt Poems 18:
E'en some o' the maist worthy men O' it[wealth]'s been nicket.
Abd. 1871  W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xxxix.:
Aw never wus naarer nicket i' my life nor wi' that creatur.
Kcb. 1890  A. J. Armstrong Ingleside Musings 42:
Folk whiles maun try some nickery trick To keep abune the groun'.
Ags. 1918  J. Ingles Laird 19:
I'm whiles sair pit till't to explain things; that Johnnie Smagrace is a laddie that fair nicks me.

7. To drink heartily, to booze (Sc. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems Gl.). Sc. Cant. Hence nicker, a hearty drink, a dram. Cf. n., 4. Sc. a.1758  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 303:
Ye laughan Lads wha like good Liquors, And with Deray drive down the Nickers.

[O.Sc. has nick, = I. 3., 1606.]

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"Nick n.1, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Dec 2017 <>



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