late 14c., nippen, "to pinch sharply; to bite suddenly," probably from or related to Middle Low German nipen "to nip, to pinch," German nippen, Middle Dutch nipen "to pinch," Dutch nijpen, Old Norse hnippa "to prod," but the exact evolution of the stem is obscure. Related: Nipped; nipping.
Meaning "break off the tip by pinching" is from c. 1400. Sense of "blast as by frost, check the growth or vigor of" is from 1580s. To nip (something) in the bud in the figurative sense of "kill or destroy in the first stage of growth" is recorded from c. 1600. Slang nip in, nip out, etc., in which the sense of the verb is "move rapidly or nimbly" is attested from 1825.