December 14, 2013


Just noticed I have 2 posts in a row calling something "nice."

I have a "nice" tag, you know.

My favorite one is "My 2 favorite 'nice' songs." [ADDED: I redid the poll.]

And "When you're nice to someone else... that someone else is nice back to you, and suddenly two people feel good about themselves and each other, and spread their feelings."

"Nice" is an interesting word. As the (unlinkable) OED puts it:

The semantic development of this word from ‘foolish, silly’ to ‘pleasing’ is unparalleled in Latin or in the Romance languages. The precise sense development in English is unclear. N.E.D. (1906) s.v. notes that ‘in many examples from the 16th and 17th cent. it is difficult to say in what particular sense the writer intended it to be taken.’
The meaning "Kind or considerate in behaviour; friendly (towards others). Freq. in to be nice (to)" only goes back to the early 1800s. Example from F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise i. i. 38   "I'm tired of being nice to every poor fish in school." But the way I used it in the previous 2 posts is the meaning "Delicate or skilful in manipulation; dexterous," which goes back to the 1600s. Here's the poet John Donne, writing in 1633:
So kiss good turtles, so devoutly nice
Are priests in handling reverent sacrifice,
And such in searching wounds the surgeon is,
As we, when we embrace, or touch, or kiss.
Turtles... fish... 


Strelnikov said...

Well, that's nice of you.

Anonymous said...

Turtle FS II.360 by Andy Warhol was created in 1985 as a screenprint on Lenox Museum Board. It is an edition out of 250.

Andy Warhol Robot, Connecting Dots.

Roy Lichtenstein Robot, Painting Dots.

Bob Dylan Robot, Wearing Polka Dots.

The "polka-dot" turtle has yellow spots on the head, neck, legs, and upper shell or carapace. Background coloration is black.

I Think I Made My Point.

Ann Althouse said...

There is only one use of the word "turtle" in Andy's diaries:

"The movie’s great, Travolta’s so good. In some camera angles he looks like a turtle, but with the right ones, he looks like the new Rudolph Valentino. Stockard Channing is actually pretty but one side of her face is much better than the other."

The movie is (obviously) "Grease."

By contrast, "nice" is one of Andy's most-used words. He's constantly saying people are "nice." I think it's a combination of liking nice people and liking the very blandness of the word.

rehajm said...

Have a nice day!

rhhardin said...

Empson does "nice" in p.26-27 of The Structure of Complex Words.

long quote

Like "quite" [so and nice] have an air of keeping the talk from getting too excited, and yet they were develped to express excitement in a childish form...The mood appears when you feel that this [excitement] is common, not merely a mistake caused by feverishness, and yet not your usual standard: ... While decently cool, I pretend a burst of excitement so as to ask you to feel as I do, and so as to say that I'm sure you will. To appeal for sympathy and be rebuffed is a shock most people are careful to avoid, so the mood has two parts. In all such attempts to explain a complicated use one must of course consider how it was imposed; this is imposed simply by accepting a slang form with calm. The cosy effect from the second part, when taken as normal, becomes the stronest element ... "How nice it is that we agree so well."

With "nice" there is a sense change to consider.

I. exact, neat.
I/1 [implication] (such things are) pleasing.
I/1! [mood] excitement.
I/2 pleasing.

...An evidently placid use absorbs the emotion into a mood "pretended excitement for cordiality and to presume sympathy." ... The intriguing thing about "nice," not needed to explain the shift but I think a reson why the shift was so complete, is that it always returns to the speaker : "While the sort of person who is habitually pleased by neatness, I am so pleased by this not very neat thing that I give it my habitual praise neat" ; she feels she is generally nice #I and now in her excitement nice #I/2...

Ambrose said...

Thought you were deficient in your 2013 allocations of "nice" and were trying to catch up by year end.

policraticus said...

My intuition says that "turtles" should be construed as "turtledoves" as in Shakespeare's The Phoenix and the Turtle, not the reptile.

David said...

Then there is the use of a word to convey the opposite of it's more common meaning. For quite a while there was the fad of using "nice" to mean bad, transgressive or just plain awful. It was done without sarcastic tone. It was not a nice thing to say.

Mark O said...

You are honoring the great Frank Burns, whose guiding philosophy was: "It's nice to be nice to the nice."

Unknown said...

A high school lit teacher wrote an extensive comment in my yearbook. She started by stating what a nice person I was, and then went on at length about why this was meant as a high compliment and not a criticism for being bland.

Me, I never would have thought of niceness as anything but a compliment and felt that the praise was spoiled by the backpedalling.

Ann Althouse said...

Also Vonnegut: "Nice nice very nice…"

Stephen A. Meigs said...

That "nice" used to sometimes mean "silly" rather makes sense to me. The torture predicate that girls use when imagining torturing people is not defined except on people the girls want to kill. And since girls don't want to kill people (it's a wrong thing to do), it follows that the predicate is silly everywhere outside the imagination, at least in reasonable girls that aren't human sacrifice priestesses (which priestesses our society lacks).

Also, there's a kind of charitable mercy opposed to torture that girls like to feel toward those they deign not to kill (typically everybody). I suppose this mercy predicate too is silly on people whom a girl would want to kill, but merciless girls scoff at that silliness in the pleas of victims. The laughter she'd have at the thought of it would just make her want to torture that much more cruelly, but it would be a scoffing different kind of laughter than typical kindly girl giggles in that it would be her laughing at what a victim wants her to believe, i.e., that she should feel mercy for him. A girl finding torturing thoughts inside her silly is a nice sign she doesn't want to kill people and feels rather certain about that. Her finding pleas from others not wanting to be tortured silly because she wants to kill them is a sign of wanting to kill them, but if she scoffs at the pleas that would probably be because she is glad that in fact mercy being silly (because she wants to kill the victim) does not imply that she should not kill him with torture. So it's not finding things silly per se that makes make girls kind, but rather their finding silliness acceptable and not something to be scoffed at (either in a reality that doesn't match their imaginings or in the pleas of those fearing torture). Were it ever to get to the point in the future where female priestesses kill people in sexualized human sacrifice rituals or whatever, I mostly think it best, assuming society hasn't put a stake through sodomy, that girls torture whom they kill, and so that they not be nice in that sense. Otherwise they might end up killing too many people in order to get emotional anti-sodomy satisfaction, or they might get forced into killing in distant quick ways that fail to make them realize that they actually aren't into killing, as is a danger if they are under the control of sodomizer types glorifying violence, who'd be just the sort to be into genocide. And sodomizers often torture without killing (although if they believe the hype they create to terrorize people, they may want do both), in order to control by terror, and it's best that any sexualized killing be in the girl's knowledge very contrary to the sort of sexualized violence that sodomizers might inflict, the contrariness being the whole point of girls enjoying hate when feeling love, since as with those given the love potion of A Midsummer's Night's Dream, it is hard for sodomized people to hate what they are considering while feeling artificial fake love being caused by sodomy chemicals, sodomy being a love potion of sorts.