Just in the (k)nick of time, let’s talk about how you spell that “(k)nick” in the “(k)nick of time.” Is it spelled N-I-C-K or is it K-N-I-C-K? What’s your first reaction? Let’s see if you’re right.
This is episode 5, and I’m having fun with this series of language tips for the curious or confused. I hope you are too. So we’ve talked about Kurt Cobain and Judas Priest. We’ve talked about spelling hijacking and spelling revolutions that didn’t quite catch steam. Today, I want to turn to an expression that is never problematic when you say it but often is when people decide to spell it.
And here’s where I want to begin the conversation:
Episode 5: Madeleine L’Engle’s Secret Wordplay (and how do you spell “in the (k)nick of time”?)
Who is this Nick we speak of? He must be a time-traveler. No, that doesn’t sound right. It must be “knick of time,” right? Right?
Sometimes our brains want to over-complicate things, believing the simple answer can’t be right and that it must be something more profound. In this vein, I’ve seen “nick of time” written a number of ways—“knick of time” and even “gnick of time” among them. However, plain old “nick” is the correct form for this idiom.
- “Nick” is a name, but “nick” is also the word for a small notch, chip, or wound; the action of making this small notch, chip, or wound; and the action of stealing, among other definitions. The phrase “nick of time” is in reference to a measurement of time, as in a measurement between nicks on a stick.
- “Knick” isn’t actually a word. “Knicks” is an abbreviation of “Knickerbockers,” meaning a resident of New York or the pro basketball team. “Knick-knack” is a small ornamental object. “Knickers” is another word for underwear. Somewhere in there, there’s a great “knick of time” story hiding about a buzzer beater shot, nostalgic finds in a grandparent’s attic, or who knows what about time-traveling underwear—but this isn’t what you’re looking for in most situations.
So there you have it. Just in the nick of time, before you misspell this phrase in your next correspondence, you have your answer.
Interestingly, the “nick” of “a nick in time” traces its roots back to the Old English word gehnycned and the Old Norse word hnykla, both meaning “to wrinkle.” If you’re a fan of Madeleine L’Engle‘s A Wrinkle in Time, allow your mind now to be blown.
Aren’t words fascinating?
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