(This post originally appeared way back in 2006, when I was still on my blogging training wheels. Since about 10 people read it then, I thought I would reprise it here)
I remember how being called nice didn’t exactly work to a person’s advantage, especially in the dating arena. “Oh, you are such a nice guy” was NOT what you wanted to hear from the object of your affection. Then there is the famous expression, “nice guys always finish last” – heck, there was even a movie made with that title, that supposedly “proves” that this is true. Just do a Google news search and it’s still being used as a way to generally describe “wimpy” behavior (especially in sports), like this one I found from the Denver Post.
I’ve also been told, on occasion, that I was “too nice” to people. Too nice?
So what’s with “Nice” anyway? How did it become so pejorative? The problem is, it has too many meanings. Take a look at the list (thanks to Dictionary.com):
1. pleasing; agreeable; delightful: a nice visit.
2. amiably pleasant; kind: They are always nice to strangers.
3. characterized by, showing, or requiring great accuracy, precision, skill, tact, care, or delicacy: nice workmanship; a nice shot; a nice handling of a crisis.
4. showing or indicating very small differences; minutely accurate, as instruments: a job that requires nice measurements.
5. minute, fine, or subtle: a nice distinction.
6. having or showing delicate, accurate perception: a nice sense of color.
7. refined in manners, language, etc.: Nice people wouldn’t do such things.
8. virtuous; respectable; decorous: a nice girl.
9. suitable or proper: That was not a nice remark.
10. carefully neat in dress, habits, etc.
11. (esp. of food) dainty or delicate.
12. having fastidious, finicky, or fussy tastes: They’re much too nice in their dining habits to enjoy an outdoor barbecue.
13. Obsolete. coy, shy, or reluctant.
14. Obsolete. unimportant; trivial.
15. Obsolete. wanton. —Idioms
16. make nice, to behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.
17.nice and, sufficiently: It’s nice and warm in here.
[Origin: 1250–1300; ME: foolish, stupid <>science) + -us adj. suffix]
In looking at this, I realize that this “problem” has existed with this word for over 700 years (check out the origin), but what I want to know is, how did it evolve from “stupid” to “kind”? I don’t think the dictionary folks have a clue. In fact, check this statement out from the definition posting:
“The semantic history of nice is quite varied, as the etymology and the obsolete senses attest, and any attempt to insist on only one of its present senses as correct will not be in keeping with the facts of actual usage. If any criticism is valid, it might be that the word is used too often and has become a cliché lacking the qualities of precision and intensity that are embodied in many of its synonyms.”
Yep, I think so.
What to do then? I say, banish the word entirely. Then, “you are such a nice guy” becomes the more direct “you are such an undesirable person for a dating partner“, and “nice guys finish last” becomes “men who lack appropriate skills to compete but aren’t all that concerned about it are probably going to end up last“.
And what about those folks calling me “too nice“? I suppose I could reply, “please clarify, because you are using a cliche lacking the qualities of precision and intensity that are embodied in many of its synonyms“, but I think I prefer the pithier “So What?”. As Popeye says, “I am what I am” (even if it’s a hopelessly imprecise and obsolete adjective).