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Last updated at 09:43 BST, Tuesday, 16 August 2011

In the nick of time

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A couple get to a Beyonce concert 'in the nick of time'. Find out more about this slang phrase by listening to The English We Speak.

Beyonce

Beyonce singing in concert

The script for this programme

Helen: Hello, and welcome to The English We Speak. My name is Helen.

Rob: And I'm Rob. Helen, you look like you've been rushing. Here, have some water.

Helen: Oh thanks. I'm a bit out of breath. My appointment at the bank took longer than expected.

Rob: You got here just in the nick of time then.

Helen: Just in the nick of time? Shouldn't it be just in time?

Rob: You can say both. It means at the very last moment. Let's hear how this phrase is used.

Woman 1: Alice gave birth to a baby girl last night.

Woman 2: I thought she wasn't due for another three weeks.

Woman 1: It was early and they got to the hospital just in the nick of time.

Man: Sarah and I were on our way to see Beyonce in concert. But she left her mobile in the office, so we had to go back and get it.

Woman: Did you miss the show?

Man: Thankfully not, we got there just in the nick of time.

Helen: In the first example, we heard one woman got to the hospital just before her baby was born. And in the second example, a couple nearly missed their Beyonce concert.

Rob: That would've been awful. You hear this phrase often used to suggest a disaster had been averted. If the action happened any later, then something awful could happen.

Helen: I see. I have another question – is this phrase a British expression?

Rob: I don't think the phrase 'in the nick of time' is specifically British. It originated from the UK, but English speakers from all over the world use it.

Helen: Let's listen to a few more examples then.

Man: We arrived just in the nick of time. Another five minutes, our plane would have left without us.

Woman: Sam was experimenting with stir frying last night and the wok caught fire. Luke rushed in with the fire blanket just in the nick of time.

Helen: That was close. Stir frying can get pretty hot sometimes. And it's good that Luke didn't try to put out the fire with water.

Rob: That would have been a catastrophe. So Helen, are you the kind of person who likes to do things at the very last minute?

Helen: Well, I'd like to think of myself as a person who can do things in the nick of time. Thanks for listening. Bye.

Rob: Bye.

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