Monday, 30 September 2013

Nice is Not Nice (but it's wonderful all the same)

This was originally to be a post about my feeble attempts to do a few runs in Nice before Bill arrived, when I knew my legs would be used up walking the length and breadth of the place.  I'm not unhappy with my efforts, but every where aside from the Promonade des Anglais, a rather crowded place, seems to be either straight up or straight down, so I didn't cover much distance.

Place Garabaldi

The original draft pointed out that Nike was the name of the Greek goddess of victory.  We learned this when watching a BBC documentary about the history of the Greeks.  Of course Nike is also the name of a popular brand of running shoe and though I've had good experience of Nike's Air Pegasus, I'm currently enjoying my Sauconys.  

The city of Nice's name, relating to the same goddess, came about around 350 BC, after the Greeks successfully took the port from the neighbouring Ligurians.

Bill's sense of humour being what it is - it's probably a national trait, but his is more pronounced than most - I've found that it doesn't do to describe anything as 'nice' when in the city of 'Nice'.  

Wondering if the term might in any way relate to victory I looked it up and found that 'nice' is actually from old French, meaning 'foolish'.  I shall refrain here from anything other than relating the information I found at :

nice (adj.)
late 13c., "foolish, stupid, 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" + stem of scire "to know".  "The sense of development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] -- from "timid" (pre-1300); to "fussy, fastidious" (late 14c.); to "dainty, delicate" (c.1400); to "precise, careful" (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to "agreeable, delightful (1769); to "kind, thoughtful" (1830).

"In many examples from the 16th and 17th centuries it is difficult to say in what particular sense the writer intended it to be taken." [OED]

By 1926, it was pronounced "to great a favourite with the ladies, who have charmed it out of all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness." [Fowler]

"I am sure," cried Catherine, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?""Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies.  Oh!  It is a very nice word indeed!  It does for everything." [Jane Austen, "Northanger Abbey," 1803]


Anonymous said...

The things I learn on your blog. : )

sanda said...

Very interesting etymology of the word nice. Who knew? Hope your stay in Nice was nice!

Shelley said...

Heather - I'm glad you learn things; I think that makes it a useful blog.

Sanda - Yes, thank you, parts of our stay were excellent.