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June 2019
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2007-11 Sometimes it's not so nice to be nice

I AM not a nice person. Don't ever think I am a nice person, `cos I'm not, ok?
People say "Do you know James? Aw, he's so nice!". But I'm not.

On the one hand, I aspire, like most people to be `nice', and yet, there is something intensely annoying about that sad little monosyllabic, rather empty, word. I resent the fact that the most descriptive adjective people can come up with to describe me is that four-lettered ambiguous and patronising word.

And what's worse about the whole thing? I use it myself. When that wordlet trips off my tongue unimaginatively, a Homer Simpson "Doh!" explodes inside, because I know I use the word, and I can't stop using it.

One of the things that annoys me most about `nice' (Ugh) is its distinctly woolly etymological history. Coming from the Latin "nescius" , meaning `ignorant', the French adopted it as an adjective meaning `simple-minded'. In 13th and 14th Century English, it implied lasciviousness. When Chaucer used the word about a lady, it suggested that that lady might perhaps be willing to throw in a few extras, if you get my drift. Hmm...Nice lady.

In the 15th Century, `nice' meant `shy and refined'. At one time, `nice' also meant `small and `precise'. And then, miraculously, having had a variety of meanings over the centuries, dictionaries now define `nice' as `pleasant or agreeable'. Once a term of abuse, `nice' is now a term of praise, however shallow.

And I suppose there is nothing essentially wrong with `nice'. It just suggests blandness.

And what about those biscuits which everyone leaves at the bottom of the Christmas biscuit tins? You know, the ones with `NICE' written across them? The plain, boring ones with a less than generous sprinkling of sugar on them? I don't want to be seen as plain and boring with a less than generous sprinkling of sugar. I want to be a McVities "Boaster"!

Instead of saying "Nice meeting you", why not say "It was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope we meet up soon again."

"I really enjoyed our conversation" is surely more flattering than "Nice talkin' to you." We hear people exclaim "Hey, nice job!", but wouldn't adjectives like skilled or impressive be better? Rather than saying "Nice jumper", how about "I love your jumper's colours", or "Great jumper", though perhaps `great' is another word which has become mis-used.

The context of course informs one of the meaning of `nice' when it is employed, but `nice' seems to have become one of the most over-used mis-used words in the English language. And the English language, above all other languages, has a limitless vocabulary with an infinite supply of adjective substitutes, and yet we use a little unimaginative one-syllable word to describe so many varying things.

There is a book called The Power of Nice by Linda Kaplan Thaler, and the central ideology which she purports is a fairly simple, but sensible, philosophy. She suggests strongly that "it pays to be nice" and that "nice" is "a powerful four-letter word that can change your life". She doesn't believe in the Donald Trump School of Achievement, where "niceness" doesn't really come into the equation, but genuinely believes that you will go far by being "nice". And she is right of course, but couldn't she just have used a better word?

So when you are in the workplace, and you hear "Aw, do you know her? She is the nicest person in the world!", jump up in agreement and suggest that the same person is charming, or pleasant, cheery, good-humoured, gregarious, congenial, likeable, affable, amiable, anything, but just not `nice'. I am urging you, and myself, to be more imaginative, and generous, with our adjectives.

Now, have a nice day! Doh!