Wednesday, 17 July 2013

All Things 'Nice'

On Monday I blogged about how even a common word can have an interesting history, and I looked at ‘okay’ as an example. Today I’m going to continue that theme by looking at another word that is used a lot, which, as with ‘okay’, may result in it being labelled bland and overused. That word is ‘nice’.

‘Nice’ entered English in the early fourteenth century and started out as a negative word, deriving from the Latin nescius meaning ‘ignorant’ and for well over a century was used as a word to describe stupid, ignorant or foolish people, or people who were believed to present those characteristics. By the beginning of the 1300s however, ‘nice’ began to refer more widely to conduct, people, or clothing that were deemed lavish or luxurious. A century later at the start of the 1400s, it had developed a more neutral manner, and was used to describe someone who was finely dressed, shy and introvert, as well as something that was precise. And by the 1500s, ‘nice’ was used to describe refined, dignified characteristics, and politeness, not just of individuals but of society as a whole.
Fast-forward to the present day, ‘nice’ has built up a reputation as being a lazy word, and perhaps overused, as with ‘basically’, ‘like’, ‘lovely’, and ‘amazing’. School children are told not to use ‘nice’ if they want to achieve higher marks, and should opt to use an adjective which is more descriptive and shows a greater knowledge of words.

In summary, common words have an intriguing history, and as with ‘nice’, the history may be more intriguing than the word itself today.

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