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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

NICKIE-TAM, n.comb. Also (k)nicky-, -tom. and jocular variant nickiewillie (Fif.17 1950). One of a pair of straps, or a piece of string in lieu, tied by farmworkers over the trousers-legs immediately below the knee to keep the legs clear of the soil and dust, etc., blowing up or relieve the weight of mud at the ankles (Abd. 1911 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. IV. 17, knicky-tom; Fif. 1962 Scots Mag. (June) 209). Gen.Sc. Also attrib. These seem to have come into use c.1900.Bnff. 1917 E. S. Rae Private John Macpherson 54:
An' Geordie, ma foreman, a dacenter lad Ne'er wore nickietoms, nor plooed up a fleed.
Sc. a.1931 E. MacColl Scotland Sings (1953) 96:
I first put on my narrow breeks to hap my spinnel trams, And buskit roond my nappin' knees a pair o' Nicky Tams.
e.Lth. 1953 Stat. Acc.3 266:
It was characteristic of the ploughman to secure his trousers round his legs immediately below the knees by a narrow buckled strap or thong. These attachments were known in this part of the country as “nickie tams” or “bow yanks”.
Sc. 1987 Glasgow Herald (31 Oct):
Sometimes the young lads were badly maltreated if they were tricked into breaking part of the initiation oath. Their penalty was to be beaten with a "nickie tam" at the back-chain of a cart. [discussing horseman's word ritual]
m.Sc. 1998 Ian Cameron The Jimmy Shand Story 14:
... proudly brushed down his new moleskin trousers, making sure they had their own knee strings to make nicky-tams.
Sc. 2000 Press and Journal (28 Dec) 13:
"I'll never forget one Sunday, we were doing an event at Pitmedden about farming life in the North-east circa 1900. I was dressed as the orra loon, in my nicky tams and bunnet, and as I was leaving the house, one of my sons said: 'Mum, why don't we have a normal mother who cooks the Sunday lunch rather than going out dressed in drag?"
Sc. 2001 Evening Times (14 Apr) 6:
On the fateful night at the Alhambra, among other hysterical funny things, Jimmy came on dressed as a Glasgow coalman, trousers tied nicky-tam style below the knee, with big leather back-protector over his shoulders and sang in my accent - yes, my Glasgow accent! - a parody of Adam Faith's What Do You Want?

[From an abbrev. dim. form of knicker (bocker)s, which the trousers in effect became by being bound by the strap, + tome, Taum, a cord, subsequently altered to -tam, with a play on the common Christian name. Cf. Waltam, id. and note.]

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"Nickie-tam n. comb.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <>



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