Fool or Nice

Nice is one of those words which have changed in meaning over time. 

Now it means of course something mildly pleasant.  At one time it meant making a distinction as in the phrase ‘a nice distinction’. Before that it meant being fussy, and going a bit further back ‘timid’. Way back in the 13th century it was used to describe anyone stupid or senseless, so it depends upon the age of the text you are reading as to what is actually being said.

I used to have a wonderful teacher called Mr Beard, who would cross out any use of ‘nice’ in an essay, as it was so overused. He saw it as lazy, but it taught me to develop my vocabulary.

Think for a moment of a rose. There is one on my kitchen counter right now. Would I say it was nice?  Well I could, but it is also big and blowsy, peachy, rich, and redolent with a subtle perfume. That is a much more accurate description then merely nice, although it is that too.

As in many other languages lots of words change their meaning over time, and it is still happening: Unique used to mean being the only one of a kind. Imagine describing the original copy of Picasso’s Guernica, it is a unique painting.  But nowadays I hear it being used more often as meaning something unusual. So, if you hear someone saying the English Network is unique, it might not mean what you think it means.

More Interesting Words