He’s a pretty nice guy.

Oh, that’s a nice picture of the two of you!

The food there is quite nice.

Nice is a word that’s come in for a lot of criticism. It’s quiet common to hear people say they hate it because it’s too weak, too soft: too nice. There are so many specific adjectives in English to describe something you like, they argue, that it’s a shame not to use them.

And I see their point. English is an incredibly extensive language, and it can be frustrating when people don’t make the most of the opportunities it affords them, and use the same words over and over.

And yet: sometimes something is just… nice. It’s not amazing, it’s not incredible, it’s not transcendent: it’s nice. It’s great to have all those adjectives at one’s disposal, but it’s important to select the best times to use them.

We might go to a restaurant and enjoy the food, but without it being among our favourite culinary experiences. We might meet someone briefly who is a pleasant individual, but we don’t really know them well enough to describe them in great detail. We might look at a photograph of a couple we know, and appreciate how happy they seem, and the framing of the picture.

In these cases, I think nice is a perfectly good word to use. Not everything is exceptional and deserving of the most extreme adjectives. If I’ve learned anything from The Lego Movie (and I like to think I’ve learned a lot), it’s that life would be exhausting if everything were awesome, all the time. To be able to go about our daily lives and have normal social interactions with other people, we can’t be constantly amazed by incredible and incomparable people and events. They crop up now and then, sure, but for the most part, people and things are nice. And that’s just fine with me.

Now I know using nice to describe people can be tricky. It’s ok if it’s someone you don’t really know, but if you’re expected to be able to give a more positive assessment of someone, calling them nice can be quite insulting. But for me, that’s part of the beauty and power of the word. Not only is it a handy adjective to generally describe things you like, but in situations like this it can carry a little venom and be a useful back-handed compliment. Not that I’m recommending you use it in that way, but realistically, we may find ourselves in a situation where we don’t really want to compliment someone, and deliberately using nice like that can be an effective tool.

It’s a pretty nice word, all in all.


15 thoughts on “Nice!

  1. I remember this biscuit too from my childhood. In fact this was one of my favorites. 🙂 I didn’t know until today that it was supposed to be pronounced “niece”.

    Yes, I’ve seen and used “nice” in all the ways you’ve described above. “Interesting” is another such word, used when you don’t want to say “that’s weird” or “I don’t agree but hey, it’s your life” 🙂 When someone uses it with me, I ask them is that “interesting good” or “interesting bad” and then watch them dig their way out. Yes, I take pleasure in tormenting people every once in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Previously, the object of the verb to tease was always in an unenviable position. If you teased somebody, it meant that you made fun of them. We still use it in that way of course, but we’ve also now begun to use it in this new way, to refer to an entertainment megacorporation hinting that they’re going to show us something nice. […]


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