"Can you explain how the expression "nick of time" came to be?
The original and usual meaning of nick is, broadly, 'a small notch, groove, chip, or the like'; these senses may be defined in ever more narrow ways, but we're still dealing with the same concept.
The phrase the nick of time is part of a group of figurative uses having the broad meaning 'precise; exact'. The earliest use in this family is the (very) nick, which, like nick of time, means 'at the precise or exact moment required; the critical moment'. Some other senses, all obsolete, are 'the exact point aimed at; the mark'; 'the precise moment in time (of something that has already occurred)', as in "The lovers were surprised in the nick of escaping"; and 'a point; degree'. There are some similar verb definitions, including 'to correspond to; tally; suit exactly' and 'to hit the mark; guess exactly'.
These meanings stem from the sense of a nick as something very precisely defined; a nick is not a large hole, or a scrape, or anything else that is diffuse; it is a small, sharp, indentation whose exact location is clear.
Nick meaning 'the precise moment' is first found in the 1570s and was said to have been common by the late sixteenth century; nick of time itself is recorded from the middle of the seventeenth centuy. The literal use of nick 'a small notch' is found in the late fifteenth century. The ultimate origin of this nick is uncertain."
It’s definitely one of the stranger idioms in the language. The language experts are sure that nick here is the same word as that for a small cut or notch. Sometime round about the 1580s the phrase in the nick or in the very nick began to be used for the critical moment, the exact instant at which something has to take place. The idea seems to have been that a nick was a narrow and precise marker, so that if something was in the nick it was precisely where it should be.
It seems that users of the expression pretty soon afterwards found this association of ideas needed some elaboration, so started to add of time to the expression, and that’s the way it has stayed ever since. These days, the phrase more usually refers to something that only just happens in time, at the last possible moment.
The expression about three centuries old, formed when someone added the redundant 'of time' to the older expression, 'in the nick,' which meant the same thing. A nick is a groove, a notch, as made with a sharp knife when one cuts a V in a stick of wood. Nothing could express precision more accurately than a notch so formed, especially when applied to time
The phrase the nick of time is part of a group of figurative uses having the broad meaning 'precise; exact'. The earliest use in this family is the (very) nick, which, like nick of time, means 'at the precise or exact moment required; the critical moment'
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