The original meaning of the word nice was ignorant. As you can see, this is a far cry from what the word actually means today. But what’s even more surprising is that the meaning of the word nice, as it stands today, is a very recent change from its original meaning. In fact, for the majority of its existence it has had what many would consider to be a derogatory meaning. To tell you the truth, the evolution of the word isn’t all that different from this one.
Just think about the last time you used the word nice. It would have been used as a compliment, either for a person of a thing. Such examples would be, “that was a nice meal, or maybe even, “she was a nice person.” Today, the use of the word is something that we like to use for something or someone that we find to be pleasant and charming. Those who receive the praise are often happy for the kind acknowledgement. But go back in time and the use of the word could have very well resulted in the one who uttered it clumsily getting a swift smack in the mouth.
The original meaning of the word nice first made its appearance around the fourteenth century as a meaning for foolish or silly. It was based on the Latin word nescius, which means ignorant. So to say that someone was nice back then wouldn’t have been the nicest thing to say, if you catch my drift. But just as with evolution, the transformation of the meaning of this word took a while.
During the early adoption of the word it was only used in a negative way. Someone who was dumb or a coward would have been called nice. But as time progressed people realized that the word itself sounded nicer than its meaning. By the middle ages the meaning had changed a little to a more neutral meaning. It was often used to describe someone who was shy, socially awkward, reserved or withdrawn. It was certainly an improvement on its first use. With the progression of society, it was these exact qualities that proved the be the turning point that the word needed.
During the age of enlightenment there was a preference for people with the qualities that we just described. A nice person, as the meaning it represents today, was someone who was shy and reserved, and not overbearing. They were the kind of people that seemed pleasant to be around. This description and use of nice quickly took hold, and it changed its meaning altogether to mean the complete opposite of what it was first used for.
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