Will's word

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Nice (adjective) "agreeable, pleasant"

Nice has been used as a general adjective of approval only since the 18th century. Before that, it expressed an extraordinary range of specific meanings. A 14th-century sense, "lustful", is found in Love's Labour's Lost, when Mote talks of "nice wenches" (III.i.21). Another 14th-century sense, "foolish", is probably dominant when sick Northumberland shouts at his "nice crutch" as he throws it down (Henry IV Part 2, I.i.145).

Sixteenth-century senses include "fastidious", as when Henry talks to Katherine about "the nice fashion of your country" (Henry V, V.ii.270); "uncertain", when Hotspur talks about a "nice hazard" (Henry IV Part 1, IV.i.48); "trivial", when Benvolio describes the quarrel between Romeo and Tybalt as "nice" (Romeo and Juliet, III.i.154); and "subtle", when Richard accuses Edward of standing "on nice points" (Henry VI Part 3, II.iv.17).

The one thing the word never means is just "I like it".

David Crystal is author, with Ben Crystal, of Shakespeare's Words, published by Penguin

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now