The word nice is the great cause célèbre of meaning change in English. In medieval and Renaissance literature, nice (derived from Latin nescius meaning ‘ignorant’) has a wide range of generally unfavourable meanings such as ‘foolish, stupid’ and ‘wanton, loose-mannered’, and in some cases it is not possible to be sure which meaning was intended. The meanings to do with precision and fine distinctions (as in a nice point or distinction) arose in the 16c, and are still in use, but they are now swamped by the generalized favourable use of nice to mean ‘agreeable, pleasant’:

• All her furniture is second-hand and rather nice —J. Rose, 1990

• I have three children of my own now and I thought it would be nice to surprise them with the sugar mice on the tree, and also the chocolate cat —Catherine Cookson, 1990.

There is no doubt that nice is greatly overused in this meaning, and critics have some reason to call it a ‘lazy word’ (i.e. inducing laziness in its users). Many synonyms, often more apposite and stronger in meaning, are available (good, pleasant, enjoyable, fine, agreeable, satisfying, etc.) and it is often better to use them, but in conversation nice has established itself too well and too idiomatically for cautionary advice to have any real point:

• I thought the shoulder of lamb would be much nicer and it looked nice and fresh! —conversation recorded in the British National Corpus, 1992.

Nice is used idiomatically followed by and in a quasi-adverbial role to introduce a positive adjective:

• Talk to her in your best, professorial manner, make her think how nice and kind you are —Nina Bawden, 1989

• Pour the warm water from the teapot into the cup you're going to use, so that the cup gets nice and warm too —weblog, AusE 2004 [OEC].

The OED traces this use back to the end of the 18c with a quotation from Fanny Burney:

• Just read this little letter, do, Miss, do —it won't take you much time, you reads so nice and fast —Camilla, 1796.

It has always been largely restricted to conversational contexts, where it is deeply embedded in the language; it can easily seem precious and affected in writing, except when this is recording conversation.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • nice — W2S1 [naıs] adj ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ 1¦(good)¦ 2¦(friendly)¦ 3¦(something you want)¦ 4 it s nice to know (that) 5 have a nice day! 6 nice to meet you 7 (it s been) nice meeting/talking to you 8¦(not nice)¦ 9 nice try 10 ni …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Nice — (n[imac]s), a. [Compar. {Nicer} (n[imac] s[ e]r); superl. {Nicest}.] [OE., foolish, fr. OF. nice ignorant, fool, fr. L. nescius ignorant; ne not + scius knowing, scire to know. Perhaps influenced by E. nesh delicate, soft. See {No}, and {Science} …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • NICE — Chef lieu du département des Alpes Maritimes, Nice est , avec 345 675 habitants en 1990 (516 740 pour la conurbation), l’une des grandes villes françaises. Mais elle est la seule qui doive sa rapide croissance à la fonction touristique fondée ici …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • nice — [ naıs ] adjective *** ▸ 1 attractive/enjoyable ▸ 2 friendly/kind ▸ 3 for showing you like something ▸ 4 with small difference ▸ 5 skillful ▸ 6 with high moral standard ▸ + PHRASES 1. ) attractive, enjoyable, or pleasant: Your hair looks nice.… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • nice´ly — nice «nys», adjective, nic|er, nic|est, adverb. –adj. 1. that is good or pleasing; agreeable; satisfactory: »a nice face, a nice child, a nice ride, a nice day …   Useful english dictionary

  • NICE — (Heb. ניצה), capital of the Alpes Maritimes department, on the Mediterranean coast of France. The first specific mention of Jews can be found in the Statutes of Nice, enacted in 1342 while the town belonged to Provence, which compelled the Jews… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Nice — Эта статья об утилите Unix; о британской прогрессив рок группе конца 1960 х см.: The Nice. nice  UNIX утилита, запускающая программу с измененным приоритетом для планировщика задач. Если не указано ни одного аргумента, команда nice выводит… …   Википедия

  • nice — 1 Nice, dainty, fastidious, finicky, finicking, finical, particular, fussy, squeamish, persnickety, pernickety can all mean exacting or displaying exacting standards (as in selection, judgment, or workmanship). Nice (see also CORRECT, DECOROUS)… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • Nice — puede referirse a: Contenido 1 Lugares 2 Música 2.1 Grupos 2.2 Discos 3 Otros …   Wikipedia Español

  • NICE — ist der englische Name der südfranzösischen Stadt Nizza der Name der Musikgruppe The Nice das englische Wort für nett die Programmiersprache Nice (Programmiersprache) einen Unix Befehl, der das Prioritätsscheduling eines Prozesses verändern kann… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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