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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

NICKLE, n.1 Also nickel and dim. form nicklety. Gen. in phr. nickle naething (ava), the term represented by N, one of the four letters on the sides of a Totum, q.v., which indicated nothing for the player to whom it fell (Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 53; ne.Sc., Ags., Per. 1964); also fig. a nonentity, a nothing. [′nɪkəl]Bnff. 1893 W. Gregor Dunbar's Wks. (S.T.S.) III. 180:
The instrument with which it [game of chance played with a teetotum] was and is still played by children at Christmas in parts of the North — e.g., Banffshire — is a small cube in the upper half, with sides tapering to a point in the lower half. On the sides of the cube are cut the letters A.D.N. and T. It is spun or whirled by the forefinger and thumb by a small stalk in the top of the cube. As I used to play the game, pins, called “yeel preens,” were used as stakes; one pin formed the stake of each game, and A. was interpreted as “Tak a',” D. “dossie doon,” N. “nickel nothing,” and T. “tak ane.” The letters may be the initials of the Latin words aufer, depone or damnum, nihil and totum; and the game in the time of the poet seems to have been that when T. turned up, the whole of the stake lying on the table fell to the player who turned up the lucky letter, whilst nothing fell to the share of him who turned up N.
Ags. 1893 J. Inglis Oor Ain Folk vii.:
Should N appear as the result of a spin, an exultant cry arose from the players of, “N - Nicklety, nathing!”
Per. 1898 C. Spence Poems 70:
When I down to dust return Shall I then be a nickle naething?
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains & Hilly 197:
N. for “nickle naething ava.”
Bnff. 1964 Banffshire Advert. (2 Jan.) 6:
A totem cuttit oot, Wi' N for nickle naething.

[Appar. ad. Lat. nihil, nothing. Cf. Totum.]

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"Nickle n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 1 Dec 2023 <>



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