I’m always amazed to see how words evolved and change its original meaning. “Nice” is one of those words that originally meant something completely different.
Middle English (in the sense ‘stupid’): from Old French, from Latin nescius ‘ignorant’, from nescire ‘not know’. Other early senses included ‘coy, reserved’, giving rise to ‘fastidious, scrupulous’: this led both to the sense ‘fine, subtle’ (regarded by some as the ‘correct’ sense), and to the main current senses.
So, how come a word that meant ‘stupid, ignorant, frivolous, senseless’ became one of the most used words in the English language?
late 13c., “foolish, ignorant, frivolous, senseless,” from Old French nice (12c.) “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish,” from Latin nescius “ignorant, unaware,” literally “not-knowing,” from ne- “not” (from PIE root *ne- “not”) + stem of scire “to know” (see science).
In Portuguese the word still has the same meaning “nescio = ignorant, stupid”. According to some, after the word went through a few changes in meaning, highborn people in the eighteenth century started to gentrify the word to give it a more pleasant meaning. Apparently, Jane Austen’s also used of the word to describe good things. So, the word went from a negative connotation to a positive one.
The fact is that many words change meanings with time, though the changes are in use and how people perceive them does not necessarily mean that the word itself now means something else that what was originally designed to mean. People meaning does not do away with what the word actually mean in reality. Nice, in reality still lack of knowledge or stupidity even if that is not perceived as such.
What do you think, should we keep the original meaning of words and correct some of our vocabulary or keep it as it is fluid, allowing for the changing in meaning and use?
Can we be both nice and wise? for example, in the quote “The fool don’t think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” we would then read as “The nice don’t think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be nice”. odd?!