Today, as I was cleaning up my online presence, I came across this post that I had written sometime in 2007. And you know what, 7 years on, I can’t help but stil feel this way. However, I would qualfy this by saying there is a difference between being genuinely nice, a doormat and “nice” with a vested interest. A distinction that is worth making. .
Genuine niceness definitely deserves celebrating. And so I reproduce the post in its full unvarnished glory:-
“Yesterday was spent lazing around Boat Quay in the quickest ever appointment I have EVER MADE in my very procrastinating life and amongst the myriad of topics, one that came up was the use of the word “nice” as a characterisation.Now, as many would know, I have a strong reaction to the word nice (and god, cute [fn1]), especially as a characterisation, despite the fact that I very hypocritically use it to describe people. This aversion to being nice is pretty much ingrained in many people that I know. Its not that being nice is bad, it just seems to immediately connotebeing insipid and boring. Its the word, and be honest, that leaps to your mind quickly and thoughtlessly when you are immediately pressed to describe someone. Its so harmless and mild yet everybody balks when being described as such.
I mean, when you are in an era of action, pop
suck stardom and accessible glamour, every thing that assails your senses is the antithesis of nice, unless nice is used as “the-nice-girl-next-door-who-is-secretly-an-undiscovered-nympho”. Everybody wants to be different and nothing roundly says mass production as “nice”. ANYBODY can be nice but not everybody can be catty, emo [fn2], cultured or a whole lot of words in the thesaurus. Nice does not take a huge stretch of imagination, (Naughty does), perhaps, because it is ironically, what we have always been taught to do – share, give up your seat on the bus, be polite – all these speak of values which indicate nicety, which in turn seems to connote goodness [fn3]. So the need to be different, seemingly implies that nice is a dirty word.
And this wouldn’t be far off the mark, seeing that nice did not start off very nicely –
It started off as “not-knowing,” from Latin, where ne- “not” + stem of scire “to know” gave us nice. This progressed rather slowly to mean “foolish, stupid, senseless” in the 13th century to slowly moving upwards to mean to “fussy, fastidious” in the 14th century, which is not a huge leap from “stupid buffoon” but at least slightly more complimentary. This took a huge turnaround in the 18th, where it was to mean to “agreeable, delightful” (1769) and this expanded to include “kind, thoughtful” in the 19th. By 1926, it was pronounced “too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness”
(Adapted from Etymonline)
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who are nice and god knows, we do need all that sweetness and light in the world. The difference is when people see nice as your defining characteristic which is the bad bit, and one cannot help but notice, that its often said rather dismissively – “oh, she’s nice. very very nice”. Perhaps, that is it! As nicely phrased above, maybe “nice” has been milked out of all its worth as a word and lays merely as a string of letters that masquerade as an adjective.[fn4], Hence, to use it would not be negative but merely uninspiring and bland, as though there exists no other defining quality of yours that begs for attention. It would seem very much like just settling. So conclusion seemed to be nice = insipid= BOR-ING.
And this has been very prettily evidenced by Austen in Northanger Abbey,
“I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?” “Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything.”
So it would seem, that perhaps being nice is really not all that cut out to be and I had evidence to back up my dislike of the word – everybody seems to agree that it is just blah.
But then I got to thinking, is it really that bad to be nice? Okay, so the word has been overused but does the connotation necessarily have to be so dire. I mean, I’d rather be described as nice even if it does smack of cookie cutter-ness. And well, technically, in everybody’s bid to be different, wouldn’t nice be the new different? [fn5] The fact is people still want nice people around and people still strive to want to be nice – ever trying telling your wannabe catty friend that people think she’s catty.. no? Because you know that’s not what she really wants to hear. Society still likes non righteous do-gooders and it is because of such people, that there can actually be a deviation.
People want to be nice, people just do not want to be described as such, which is a rather interesting paradox. Because that just smacks of insecurity, which in turn seems ironic, because all the “different” labels are all about security in finding your true self, instead of moulding yourself to Mr/Miss Proper.
And well, there is no real association that nice is boring – being pleasant and thoughtful does not mean that you are incapable of being interesting. Incidentally, it doesn’t mean you are a doormat either. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that being nice was not insulting. It is rather like a old comfortable pair of shorts or blanket. Just because a word has been overused does not strip it of its meaning – An overplayed song that you originally liked chafes if you hear it while it is being abused as such but hearing it after a long while, just reverts back to being a song you liked. Similarly, after being described with a thesaurus in hand, being called nice doesn’t seem that bad at all.
Being called a bore, now, that’s insulting
Footnoting format : Corrupted Westlaw
[fn1] Unless it came from a very cute specimen of my persuasion, in which case, pretty much anything short of ” She was about as fun as getting my wisdom teeth pulled out” would be taken as a compliment.
[fn2] God, does anybody want to sock the pseudo wannabes of the wannabes. ( I know, where do you even begin to unravel this wannabe-ness of the Peninsula Plaza rawkerzzzzzz) HAVE YOU HEARD TEENAGE ANGST NOW? Its disgusting and so whiney and so unmanning. I mean, emo used to be Bright Eyes – whimsy and musing. God.
[fn3]Though, its important to note that being nice does not automatically make you good but possibly sets you on your way there. Being good necessitates being nice though. Complicated.
[fn4]Wow. I did just say that.
[fn5]The whole “If everybody thinks out of the box, would thinking in the box, in fact, be thinking out of it?” argument.