Not Nice At All
My high school English teacher banned the use of the word nice. She said it was a lazy adjective. Although she was a bit harsh, there was some truth in what she said.
It is said that nice originates from the Latin nescio meaning ‘I don’t know’. So what Mrs C was getting at was that if you used the word nice, you probably didn’t know what to say.
Even after Roman times, nice just wasn’t a good word to use. In the 13th century it meant foolish, so saying someone was nice was insulting rather than complimentary. Through the centuries nice had different meanings, including timid, extravagant, elegant, wanton, dainty, strange, thin, modest, shy and precise (this last meaning still survives in the phrase ‘nice and early’).
By the 18th century the meaning had started to change to the more modern sense of agreeable or kind. That still didn’t cut any ice with my English teacher, though, who remained opposed to using nice all through my school career. How many synonyms can you find for nice?
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8 Responses to “Not Nice At All”
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It is interesting that in Spanish, there is a word (one of the many) for fool that is “necio”… Only now I realize how similar it is to “nice”!
Latin strikes again, Leo. All the Romance languages have striking similarities to the Latin roots at times.
In Portuguese “nescio” keeps its roots: it means stupid, ignorant, etc.
I don’t think we should look for a synonym for “nice.” We should try to be more specific, and instead of “nice,” use “kind,” “pleasant,” “humorous,” “effective,” “pretty,” etc.
However, in expressions like “nice one,” or “have a nice day,” both of which are vague but can be useful in conversation, it wouldn’t make sense to replace the word because the understanding that goes with the phrase would be eliminated.
We used to say “nice” when we could have said “simple”. A person who was nice was usually a person who wasn’t bright or was naive. We didn’t want to be mean about it… so we were nice.