nice (adj.)

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). "The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] -- from "timid, faint-hearted" (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 "too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it 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]

For sense evolution, compare fond, innocent, lewd, also silly.

Origin and meaning of nice


Mediterranean seaport of France, ceded to France in 1860 by Sardinia; ancient Nicaea, from Greek nikaios "victorious," from nikē "victory" (see Nike). Nizzard "a resident of Nice" is from Nizza, the Italian form of the city name. 

updated on October 13, 2021

Definitions of nice from WordNet
nice (adj.)
pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance; "what a nice fellow you are and we all thought you so nasty"- George Meredith;
a nice day
nice manners
a nice dress
had a nice time at the party
the corn and tomatoes are nice today
a nice face
nice (adj.)
socially or conventionally correct; refined or virtuous;
a nice girl
Synonyms: decent
nice (adj.)
done with delicacy and skill;
a nice bit of craft
a job requiring nice measurements with a micrometer
a nice shot
Synonyms: skillful
nice (adj.)
excessively fastidious and easily disgusted;
too nice about his food to take to camp cooking
Synonyms: dainty / overnice / prissy / squeamish
nice (adj.)
exhibiting courtesy and politeness;
a nice gesture
Synonyms: courteous / gracious
Nice (n.)
a city in southeastern France on the Mediterranean; the leading resort on the French Riviera;
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.