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20 May, 2008

I don't do 'nice'

For many, "niceness" is a positive value to be striven for. A "nice" person is friendly, non-threatening, and not at all controversial. A "nice" meal involves digestible food, moderately pleasant surroundings, and a conversation that perhaps does not draw the attention of other diners. For others, that's the reason that they despise "niceness".

And I'm one of them. Few things inspire my contempt more than such insipid cosiness. It carries connotations of unambitiousness: 'Be satisfied with your lot. Accept shallow happiness now rather than long-term achievement in the future. Just get by, don't excel. Conform.'

There are words I dislike and would never use, but I do happen to use 'nice' quite frequently, in three senses, one of which mightn't be clear:

  • Sarcasm.
  • Faint praise.
  • As Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett taught me in 1990, 'nice' also means 'precise' or 'discerning'.
Incidentally, the quote is from a BBC article, nice in all respects: well-observed and entertaining, but ultimately a little trivial.
As is this comment.

Comments

#3: yup. "nice" has a very precise legal meaning, a holdover from its old original normal meaning. it means something on a cusp, something which is a little tricky, something very finely balanced upon a point, which must be decided catastrophically --or at least unequivocally--- one way or another upon a very equivocal point. "a nice point in law" is not nice...

Posted by Saltation at May 26, 2008 12:45 AM
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