In the nick of time

In the nick of time is an idiom that has been in use for hundreds of years. An idiom is a word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom in the nick of time, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

In the nick of time means at the most important moment or at the last possible moment. Any delay would have meant the action occurred too late. In the nick of time has it roots in the 1580s, when in the nick meant at the critical moment. The image is of a nick or notch in a stick, which made a precise measurement. By the 1600s, the prepositional phrase of time was added to the idiom, and in the nick of time has been a popular expression ever since.


Friends from work who wouldn’t be shooed away and police officers who took the time to care led to help in the nick of time for an Adairsville man. (The Rome News-Tribune)

Some of Byton’s competitors have managed to secure investment in the nick of time. (The Financial Times)

What I thought was going to take three years ended up taking 11, with some corporate sponsors coming in in the nick of time to help make it a reality. (The Napa Valley Register)

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