Saturday, September 02, 2006

Banality of "Cool" Repetition

I have been neglecting this blog and I know it. But it’s been a kind of passive neglect. I have not been beating this blog like a red-headed step child. (I know that’s a tired simile, but I am unrepentant. I am just happy to be posting.) I have not even been beating this blog like a fat kid caught stealing lunches.

Rather than bore you with the air-tight reasons for my absence, I’d like to launch a topic that’s been bothering me. I guess you could call it the banality of repetition.

I’ve gone on the record here decrying the systemic abuse of words like “nice”—words that are used with such knee-jerk frequency as to lose any specified meaning. This isn’t mere hypothesis. This is fact. So why do I find myself saying “nice” in a variety of settings?

“Nice work.”
“Nice shot.”
“Nice comeback.”

I know why I do it. But the rationale doesn’t make me feel any better. At every turn these days, we’re confronted with situations and explanations that require a mild superlative in response. Such adjectives are called for with such frequency that the very consistency of their use reduces them to piles of grey, tasteless hash, linguistically.

That’s why I say “Nice” instead of “Superlative” or “Beatific.”

I figure I may as well sacrifice a word that has already been denuded of profundity, rather than lead a really costly heifer to the alter of common usage.

What do all you nice wordsters make of this problem?


Blogger John B. said...

I'll get the ball rolling here.

The Mrs. and I actually had a discussion of this very word--specifically, my usage of it--once upon a time. We came to the conclusion that I most often use it as a kind of affirming, approving understatement, as with the examples you provide. Of course, how is the audience to know that unless s/he is privy to the particulars of my usage?: S/he could think I was being dismissive in a bland sort of way (in the same way that some use the word "interesting") and not complimentary. And now the reader can probably divine how this became a topic of discussion in the Meridian household.

Ah, the lexicographical-minefield-disguised-as-semantically-safe terrain.

3:42 AM  
Blogger ~Linda in Virginia said...

And now to the surprise of the day... I had bookmarked this VRP as a favorite - Favorite hee hee .. did not realize until this morning that you also write BitterSweet Life. Whoaaa!! Is that kewl or what? LOL
i know, that's enuff on the banal repeats ...

6:32 AM  
Blogger Ariel said...

"S/he could think I was being dismissive in a bland sort of way (in the same way that some use the word "interesting") and not complimentary. And now the reader can probably divine how this became a topic of discussion in the Meridian household."

Ha! Your observations add even more complexity to the problem. I wonder if people have similar thoughts when I say "nice" to them... Grr. He's insulting me by pretending to give me a low-grade comment. What a jerk.

Who will help guide us out of this linguistic blind alley?!

Thanks, Linda. I don't mind banal repeats if they are complimentary. ;)

10:48 AM  
Anonymous momma2theMax said...

please note the last 3 definitions for the word nice..... i personally feel that although this site feels that they are obselete they are actually observed by john b. i refuse to use this word among others that cause me to spit on my listener (not that i spit when i say least not literally) i know i know totally off topic when it comes to banal repitition but worth the VRP treatment nonetheless.
8 results for: nice
View results from: Dictionary | Thesaurus | Encyclopedia | the Web

nice  [nahys]\–adjective, nic‧er, nic‧est.
1. pleasing; agreeable; delightful: a nice visit.
2. amiably pleasant; kind: They are always nice to strangers.
3. characterized by, showing, or requiring great accuracy, precision, skill, tact, care, or delicacy: nice workmanship; a nice shot; a nice handling of a crisis.
4. showing or indicating very small differences; minutely accurate, as instruments: a job that requires nice measurements.
5. minute, fine, or subtle: a nice distinction.
6. having or showing delicate, accurate perception: a nice sense of color.
7. refined in manners, language, etc.: Nice people wouldn't do such things.
8. virtuous; respectable; decorous: a nice girl.
9. suitable or proper: That was not a nice remark.
10. carefully neat in dress, habits, etc.
11. (esp. of food) dainty or delicate.
12. having fastidious, finicky, or fussy tastes: They're much too nice in their dining habits to enjoy an outdoor barbecue.
13. Obsolete. coy, shy, or reluctant.
14. Obsolete. unimportant; trivial.
15. Obsolete. wanton.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous momma2theMax said...

oh ishould have looked farther down the pase before posting the last comment as thisw tidbit of entymology is particularly revealing

[Origin: 1250–1300; ME: foolish, stupid < OF: silly, simple < L nescius ignorant, incapable, equiv. to ne- negative prefix + sci- (s. of scīre to know; see science) + -us adj. suffix]

1:52 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

Just read this post on unwanted "elasticity in words" that seems like it pertains to the topic here.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post.

I will now aver to elucidate the deepest definition of this supposedly egregiously profane adjectival entity. I think we all know that "nice" has its orgin in the council of "Nicea." It was a general term used to denote orthodoxy. It was not at all a rarity to hear the church fathers deem a certain turn of phrase, doctrinal point, or antiquated television sitcom as "Nicea." In fact, there is archeological evidence of a patristic see-saw with the words, "Nicea-ria" engraved upon them. Then, as more and more non-greek speaking people began to appropriate this strikingly useful and succinct summary of all that is orthodox, the "a" dropped out because it reminded them of "alpha," which we all know is not the best tasting shrubbery in the world. Thus, "nice."

I anticipate nicely fashioned mental responses to this discourse.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Sprittibee said...

Cute link to get you going again...

1:06 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

Now that this post has been up for awhile, I'm trying to form conclusions re: my "nice" usage and they're hard to come by. Should I...

1) Be more stingy with my accolades, thus removing the need for frequent "Nice"s?
2) Use "better" words instead, thus hazarding their precise denotations?
3) Do whatever I can get away with in the moment, but not own up on this blog?

I'm leaning toward the third course at the moment. So when I play basketball, I may say, "Hey, nice look, man." Or I may shout out, "Superlative arch on that jumpshot!"

I can't deny there's a pragmatic element in all this.

Thanks for the link, Sprittibee!

7:17 AM  
Anonymous CountryGoalie said...

Quite thought-provoking. Of course, there is not much that can be done in the course of my job, as I work with an autistic preschooler and saying "admirable completion!" just wouldn't be the same to him as "good job!"

Ye ken? Aside from that, I would like to point out that the proper word in that second-to-last paragraph is "altar", not "alter".

I would not have pointed it out, but it is similar to the poster at my mother's office that states that you "only need 2 things". Every single time I glance at it, I am bothered that they did not spell out the numeric.

7:53 PM  

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