Tuesday, June 2, 2009

[WFOTM] Word Facts of the Moment #4


originally meant foolish, from the Latin nescius, ignorant, Chaucer has --

For he was nyce and knowth no wisdom

and he uses 'nice fare' for foolish to do. To be 'over-nice' still means to be foolishly particular, and 'more nice than wise' also carries the original meaning. Archdeacon Hoare*, however, derives the word from the French niais, simple; and speaks of 'That stupid vulgarism by which we use the word nice to denote almost every mode of approbation for almost every variety of quality; and from sheer poverty of thought, or fear of saying anything definite, wrap up everything indiscriminately in this characterless domino - speaking in the same breath of a nice cheesecake, a nice tragedy, a nice oyster, a nice child, a nice man, a nice tree, a nice sermon, and a nice coutry; as if a universal niaiserie (for nice seems to originally to have been only niais) had whelmed the whole island...'

Another meaning of nice is over-fastidiousness, or affectation of purity and delicacy, often employed by the most vicious people. It is in this sense that Swift said, 'a nice man is a man of nasty ideas.'

* Personally, I don't know how seriously I could take a sermon by Archdeacon Hoare.

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