Asking me how often I use the word “nice” feels a bit like a nurse or doctor asking me how many units of alcohol I usually have each week.
You want to be honest, but even if you give a fair answer, there’s a sneaking feeling you’ve veered well on the low side.
Let’s make a quick distinction between what I say or write in my job, and what goes into my everyday conversation or texts or emails. For work, there’s almost bound to be a much more informative and descriptive word I’ll use – unless it’s a quote, and works well as it is.
That said, I probably call something “nice” all the time, it covers so much… Nice putt! – mmm, skilful, effective. Nice kids! – ah, so well-behaved, friendly. Nice top! – like it, stylish, in good taste. Nice holiday? – enjoyable, I hope, relaxing?
“Nice” has been with us since the Middle Ages, slowly changing and widening its meaning. At first it was much like its original counterpart in Old French, meaning “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish.”
From there it also came to mean “timid”, then via “fussy, fastidious” to “dainty, delicate” in the 1400s, and by the 1500s “precise, careful” (as a nice distinction and nice and early). In the 1700s it meant “agreeable, delightful”, in the 1800s “kind, thoughtful”.
But jump to 1926, and it was pronounced by Fowler as “too great a favourite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness.”
Ouch! We know that words these days have become so misused and stripped of meaning that everyone in the public eye is a celeb, star or icon, and that anything averagely good in America is awesome, but that does it.
Nice – merely diffusing vague and mildly agreeableness!
Never mind cuss boxes and fines for bad language, we need to stop the rot now, before “nice” is the only adjective left on the planet apart from whatever word for “bad” happens to be in use on social media in a few years..
I am going to try and cut myself short every time I feel my brain pushing the word into my mouth. It will be so refreshing to try an alternative.
Will anyone join me? It would be so nice to have some support on this – thank you. Have a nice day, now…