Nice: A Four-Letter Word

man giving jacket to woman
This isn’t a nice guy; this is a gentleman. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

There are so many words in the English language, so many of which that could be used in place of the word that’s the subject of this post. All of them are more descriptive and have a more positive sound. Consider these examples:

“That was very kind of him.”

“It’s a pleasant day outside.”

“Those are some good-looking shoes!”

Instead, we English-speakers, at least in the United States, tend to use a catch-all word that comes with some negative connotations: nice. Now, consider these examples:

Nice job, Mark; that foul cost us the game.”

“She’s a nice girl, but…”

And the quintessential quote from absent-minded mothers: “Play nice, kids!”

“Nice” seems so duplicitous! It’s probably just me, but I’ve never liked the way the word sounded, with that hiss at the end that some extend. Some people use it like it’s filler when they don’t have anything else to say or don’t care about what someone is telling them. “Oh, that’s nice.”

After reading books like No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover and its Christian counterpart No More Christian Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin, my dislike for all things “nice” has only increased. Think about what’s implied when two women are talking and one says, “I think Joe is such a nice guy.” When you think of Joe in this context, what comes to mind? Is he an emotionally strong man who is comfortable in his skin and knows what he wants in life? Or is he a man who, bless him, holds the door for a beautiful woman but doesn’t have the nerve to ask her out because he doesn’t think he’s capable (or worthy) of dating her? Ladies, be honest: would you date a man you or your girlfriends called “nice?”

bench nature love people
Is this a nice (ignorant) guy? Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There’s another thing I learned about the word “nice” from reading these books. Our modern four-letter word comes from the Latin nescire (“not know”) and nescius (“ignorant”) To be “nice” was to be an idiot, to put it plainly. The Latin found its way into Old French and eventually came to its current form in Middle English, where it simply meant “stupid.” Do you understand why I don’t like the word now?

I know not everyone uses the word this way, but I can’t help but bristle when someone tells me I’m “nice” or calls me a “nice guy.” I suspect their intentions are good, but sometimes I’ll ask them why they say that, or even tell them plainly, “I’d rather you call me good or kind than nice.” That goes for everyone: call me kind, but please don’t call me nice. In a way, I think it’s like Christ telling the church of Laodicea that he would rather them be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-22, and yes I know I’m taking it out of context a bit). Let me be hot or cold, but not lukewarm. Let me be good or bad, but not nice.

I’ve all but banished the word from my vocabulary. In addition to the reasons above, I find that not using the word requires me to think of more descriptive, appropriate adjectives to describe things that would ordinarily be “nice.” Instead of talking about my “nice” lunch catching up with a friend, I’ll use a word like “great,” “fantastic,” or even “superb.” More generally, I’ve found that taking a moment to use a better word does more to further a conversation with others. It wasn’t just a “nice” burger I had, but a “juicy” one, and it wasn’t just a “nice” conversation that we had, but an “edifying” one. Those words create more vivid mental pictures (you’re picturing a burger dripping with flavor, aren’t you?) and elicit more interesting responses: “Juicy? Wow, I’ll have to try that sometime!”

To put a biblical spin on this, the Book of Proverbs wisely notes that “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23 ESV) and “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11 ESV). Apples of gold in a setting of silver—what imagery! Why throw out a boring, banal word like “nice” when you have so many other impressive words at your disposal?

Bringing it back home, I don’t want to give people reasons to call me nice. I want to give people reasons to call me good, kind, responsible, helpful, faithful, truthful, and wise. I believe that men who exhibit these characteristics won’t be called “nice” by anyone; they will be called other names, both good and bad, but they will wear those names as badges of honor, hard-fought in the battle of life. May it be so in my life.


Post Scriptum: This post is written unashamedly from my male perspective, and though I write about “nice” guys, I want to be clear that the same applies to “nice” girls, too. Ladies, don’t be nice, either! For reference, there is a No More Christian Nice Girl for you, as well.