Old Nick

Nick or Old Nick is a well-known appellation of the Devil. The name appears to have been derived from the Dutch Nikken, the devil, which again comes from the Anglo-Saxon nac-an, to slay–for as Wachter says the devil was «a murderer from the beginning.» In the northern countries there is a river spirit named «Neck,» «Nikke,» or «Nokke» of the same nature as the water Kelpie, and the Merman of Triton. A.G.H.


The name «Nick» or «Old Nick,» commonly used as an appellation for the Devil, has an interesting etymological and mythological history, intertwining various cultural influences and beliefs about evil and supernatural entities.


Etymology and Origins

  • Dutch Influence: The term appears to have originated from the Dutch word «Nikken,» which refers to the devil. This connection underscores the shared cultural and linguistic heritage among various European countries in their conceptualization of evil or malevolent beings.
  • Anglo-Saxon Roots: The word «Nikken» is further traced back to the Anglo-Saxon verb «nac-an,» meaning «to slay.» This etymology is significant because it ties the concept of the Devil to the idea of destruction and death. As noted by the linguist Wachter, this aligns with the biblical description of the devil as «a murderer from the beginning.»
  • River Spirit Associations: In Northern European folklore, particularly in regions like Scandinavia, there is a belief in a river spirit known as «Neck,» «Nikke,» or «Nokke.» These spirits are often depicted as malevolent or tricky, akin to the water Kelpie in Scottish folklore and the Merman in the tales of Triton.


Cultural and Mythological Significance


  • Water Spirits and Folklore: The reference to the river spirit «Neck» or «Nokke» in Northern mythology highlights a common theme in folklore where natural elements like rivers and lakes are inhabited by spirits or deities. These entities often possess dual characteristics of benevolence and malevolence, reflecting humanity’s complex relationship with nature.
  • The Devil in Different Cultures: The evolution of the name «Old Nick» for the Devil demonstrates how different cultures influence each other’s mythologies and legends. The Devil, a central figure in Christian theology, is depicted in various ways across cultures, often embodying the ultimate evil or adversary to goodness.
  • Symbolism in Names: The transformation of the name over time and across regions underscores the power of language and names in shaping our understanding of mythological and supernatural entities. Names like «Old Nick» carry with them a wealth of cultural and historical connotations, enriching the storytelling and myth-making traditions.


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