Nick – What does “Nick” mean in British slang?

Hello and Welcome back to Slang with me Louisa May Adams. This show will give you the chance to hear, understand the origins and meanings of new slang and to use it immediately! So let’s get started…

I was telling my class about my close friend from England who called me yesterday. She was very upset because her coat got nicked on the subway.

When i told them, they responded with little sympathy. One commented “I’m sure she can fix it”, however this was not true as the coat was gone. So today we will be clarifying the slang term for “nick”.

In formal British English, nick is a noun and a verb meaning a small cut and this is what my student was thinking of earlier when advising my friend to get her coat fixed.

However this word nick is very tricky, as it is used for many things in both formal and British slang.

In slang nick N-I-C-K is a verb meaning to steal. For example “Susie’s phone got nicked at the party!” meaning Susie’s phone was stolen at the party.

The verb “nick” can be traced back to the late 16th century meaning trick or cheat. The first found reference of the word was in 1576 by the English dramatist George Whetstone where he says “I never nicked his pay” meaning I never stole his pay.

The reasoning behind this word is unclear, however it has been suggested it relates to the name Nicholas, as in the 1940s the name nick was often used to refer to the devil or satan, giving it negative connotations.

However in slang nick has a second meaning: Prison.

For example “he got taken to the nick” meaning he was sent to jail. This use can be traced back to Australia and the word can be found in a book of Sydney slang from 1882.

Today we can use it like this: “We cant see Kelly this weekend as she is in the nick” meaning my friend Kelly is in prison so I can’t see her.

So if you hear nick on the street in the UK remember, it could mean to cut, to steal or just prison.

So start using it today! Make sure you don’t go to the nick because you have nicked something!

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Let’s catch up soon to explore our next slang word.