Does anyone know the etymology of the term 'spoke nipple'? The wiki page on Spoke Nipple and even google doesn't have the answer.

Are there other threaded mechanical screws that are more like 'nipples'? Or did the end of spoked wheels at one point resemble nipples (say, for wooden wheels)? Why are they called 'nipples'?

  • 4
    because you twist them?
    – cherouvim
    Mar 31, 2015 at 8:24
  • Nice one! But surely there are plenty of things we twist, like screws and nuts and cranks and so on - all those are just subclasses of nipples due to their ability to be twisted?
    – Ehryk
    Mar 31, 2015 at 8:26
  • 6
    "Nipple" is the term for a short piece of pipe, and the term is also used in mechanical work for other similar objects. Nothing unique to bikes. Mar 31, 2015 at 11:38

4 Answers 4


In plumbing and piping, a nipple is a fitting, consisting of a short piece of pipe, usually provided with a male pipe thread at each end, for connecting two other fittings.

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nipple_%28plumbing%29

This is from the wikipedia entry on the plumbing and piping context of the word Nipple as suggested by Daniel R. Hicks' comment.

Can anyone elaborate on the etymology of this, or why this term for short pieces of pipe was used for spoke ends (perhaps proper piping nipples were used in the past)?

  • 1
    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/nipple states that it derives "From earlier neple, nypil, *neble, believed to be a diminutive of nib, neb (“tip, point”), equivalent to nib +‎ -le." At least in German, "Nippel" is used for all kinds of little pointy things.
    – linac
    Apr 1, 2015 at 5:51

I would guess that the etymology is by analogy – the closest existing hardware to a spoke nipple was/is a pipe nipple so that when wheel makers started looking for a name for the little thing with the threads that tensions the spokes someone thought that they looked a bit like tiny pipe nipples and the name stuck.

  • So that begs the question: why is a pipe nipple called a nipple? Do they look like human nipples or so they predate the modern anatomical use of nipple?
    – Ehryk
    May 13, 2015 at 0:00

From the Online Etymology Dictionary: Nyppell, dating from the 1530s, for a protuberance of a mammalian breast where the milk duct terminates in females, as an alteration of Neble from the 1520s, itself likely a diminutive of Neb (beak), making it a little beak, or little projection. The usage for small mechanical projections isn't attested before 1713, so the body part usage came first, while the usage for infant bottle teats didn't appear until 1875.

source: https://www.etymonline.com/word/nipple


Nipple. It's just a fun word used to describe 'protrusion'. Something that 'pokes' or 'sticks' out. A 'nipple' was a nipple before it was a body part. I believe a woman's 'nipple' have been called many things before people got used to the fact it was just an average body part all humans have (men included). That said, to demystify the word "nipple" & bring it's truth to light, look around and see just how many things actually have a 'protrusion' of some sort and consider it might have been called a nipple before it was named something else. Like, an "outty belly button" ...isn't that just a stomach nipple?

  • 1
    The term "nipple" has been used in mechanical/plumbing circles for centuries. The term as used for bike wheels goes back to that earlier mechanical use. Any question as to the origin of the term belongs on the English SO site, not here. Sep 4, 2016 at 18:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.