Over centuries language has changed, evolved. It’s common knowledge, and with the internet now as our main source of communication our vocabularies have been pushing boundaries as well as expanding our knowledge and spurring our creativity at a heightened rate. In a lot of ways, our language skills are growing. But they are also being suffocated. With so many new words and innovative ways to use already existing words, the actual meaning behind them can diminish so much that we are often left with remnants of pop-culture and slang definitions.
Along with language, chivalry – compliments specifically – have also “evolved”. Given and recieved by strangers in the street; unbarred by gender, age, or race; between lovers and acquaintances, family and coworkers. Some of these “compliments” are blatantly rude and unwarranted, while others are more subtly disparaging.
One of these back-handed companions is “nice”.
“Thank you for holding the door, that was nice.”
“Oh, that was a nice thing to say!”
“My sons girlfriend is so nice.”
Ahem, I would like to first bring your attention to the origin of the word “nice”
1250-1300; Middle English: foolish, stupid < Old French: silly, simple <Latin nescius ignorant, incapable, equivalent to ne- negative prefix + sci-(stem of scīre to know; see science )
So to lay it out: the word nice is actually historically reinforced through negative terms. Though it too has evolved like many others, I still hold firm that although nice is a nice compliment, that is all it really is.
As it goes, I strongly believe that “nice” is the small talk of personality traits. Where I value kindness, honesty, thoughtfulness, and even genuine goodness, nice is in itself a nicety. It fills a void in the character gap that would otherwise be filled with another redundant trait such as hard working (when one could potentially be working smartly instead [this of course does not apply to all hard working, for some work is genuinely hard no matter how smartly one goes about it]).
Our language has in many ways become lazy, but I believe that this laziness lays more in the reluctancy to use it properly than in what we mean by using it in this way. This does not mean, however, that our personalities and characters have become lazy. There is an importance behind giving honest and accurate compliments. And criticisms. This generation has grown dependant upon the coddling of social media and the acceptance of how we purvey ourselves to our peers. I think if we’re going to hide behind self-made appearances, we might as well have the knowledge for them to not be nice ones.
Written by Forest Greenwell