Nick of time

Wonder Why Wednesday: Nick of Time

Last Thursday was the NBA’s trade deadline. For any trade to take place, it needed to happen by 3pm ET. Most years the trade deadline is filled with much speculation, but little action. This year was different.

There were 11 trades and nearly all of were completed just minutes before the deadline. If the teams would have waited a few seconds longer, the trade would not have been accepted. You could say that the teams got their trades completed “in the nick of time.”

“In the nick of time.” What an odd phrase to describe something that happened at the last possible minute. Especially since no one named Nick was actually traded. Where does that phrase come from? Was it created by some guy named Nick who was always showing up just in time? Let’s find out…

Wonder Why Wednesday: Where Does The Phrase “Nick Of Time” Come From?

According to, before the phrase “nick of time”, there was another expression used to convey the same meaning – “pudding time.” This comes from the medieval times when pudding was the first dish served at a meal. To arrive at “pudding time” meant that you showed up just in time to eat. (Side note: this is also where the phrase “the proof is in the pudding” originated)

I love the phrase “pudding time.” It has all the elements a great phrase needs. It is quick and to the point, fun to say and makes you want to look in your refrigerator. So why the switch to “nick of time?” What do people have against pudding.

Two reasons. First, pudding morphed from a savory sausage dish to a dessert. A transformation of Bruce Jenner-like proportions. This meant that it was now served at the end of a meal rather than the beginning. It no longer made sense to say “pudding time” when someone arrived in time for the beginning of something.

The second reason for the change from pudding to nick (Side note: “From Pudding to Nic” would be a great name for a Nic Cage TV show on the Food Network) has to do with people’s desire to express timing outside of mealtime. The phrase “pudding time” didn’t mean much when someone arrived at the office a second before it was too late.

In order to find a more universally represented term, people turned to a piece of wood. (Because what is more common than wood?) The nick was not a person at all, says “The nick that was being referred to was a notch or small cut and was synonymous with precision. Such notches were used on ‘tally’ sticks to measure or keep score.”

That all makes sense, but I think I would have stuck with “pudding time.”




Photo credit: Wikipedia