Friday, June 20, 2008

Murder and Mayhem—Eliminating Good and Nice

There are instances of words that have outlived their usefulness: good and nice are two such words. They have been so overused that whatever specific meaning they may once have had is long gone. They have become “placeholders”—words that fill in in some hazy, general way for a more specific word that we have not thought of yet, or are too lazy to think of. Our job is to give these words a decent burial so that the “real” words can finally come to light.

The following is fairly typical of how good and nice are used in writing and speaking.

When I woke up this morning I could tell it was going to be a good day. I glanced out the window and the weather was nice. I took a long shower, which made me feel good. Then I stared into my closet; I was looking for something nice to wear. Finally I settled on my good denim skirt and my new t-shirt. I got a good bargain on that shirt; it looks much nicer than you would think for the price that I paid for it. Besides, the look didn’t matter as much as the good feeling that wearing new clothes gives me.

Since it is a good idea to eat breakfast every day, I grabbed a coke and a doughnut as I ran out the door to school. A surprise awaited me at school—my first class had been canceled. That’s always a nice thing to hear on a Monday morning. I headed for the cafeteria to find my friends.

“Sarah,” I yelled, when I spotted her. “How was the vort? Was it good?”

Sarah waved as she came toward me. “It was really, really nice. I can’t remember having such a good time before.”

“What was so good about it, Sarah?” asked Rivka as she came over. “ I didn’t think it was a nice vort at all.”

“Why didn’t you have a good time?” Sarah asked. “I thought the food was good, and the music was definitely good. And the people? They were more than good.”

“Good for you maybe,” Rivka complained. “What’s so good about getting food poisoning from the sushi? Or finding out that the girl you thought was being so nice to you is only being that way because she wants to marry your brother?”

Here are just some of the possible words that you can substitute for good.
Righteous, upright, virtuous, honest, true, just, benevolent, moral, chaste, pure, fine, incorruptible, unspotted, untainted, sinless, stainless, tasty, scrumptious, honorable, conscientious, sound, serviceable, real, valid, reputable, proper, fit, suitable, useful, valuable, agreeable, pleasant, satisfying, satisfactory, complete, strong, reliable, healthy, invigorating, nutritious, appropriate, gratifying.

Here are just some of the possible words that you can substitute for nice.
Fine, handsome, pretty, comely, beautiful, lovely, attractive, fascination, captivating, exquisite, dainty, refined, delicate, charming, fair, graceful, elegant, good-looking, well-formed, pleasing, amiable, agreeable, winning, winsome, precise, particular, fastidious, exact, correct.

Since nice and good are sometimes used interchangeably, the words in the two lists above may also fit the intended meaning of either nice or good.

Each of the words above has a specific meaning and usage—look up a word in the dictionary if you are not sure of exactly what it means or how it is used. Remember that a synonym is not an exact replacement for a given word in all possible circumstances of usage.

Note: Anyone who thinks that nice and good don't need replacing should try being a shadchan and having the following conversation with a single.
Shadchan: So, how was the date?
She: It was nice.
Shadchan: I see. What was the boy like?
She: He was nice.
Shadchan: You went out to eat?
She: Yeah, but the place wasn't so good.
Shadchan: Did you at least get to converse with him?
She: Yeah, the conversation was good.
Shadchan: So, would you go out with him again?
She: No, I don't think so.


mother in israel said...

My second-grade teacher did not allow us to use the word nice. I still avoid it.

mother in israel said...

Oh, and before someone beats me to it--nice post!

Orthonomics said...

Here is a topic for you since you are on the subject of descriptive language and refraining from vulgar language. For a while, friends of mine had a sign on their refrigerator on how to speak like a Bas Melech. The example you bring from a shidduch dater would be approved by the makers of the sign. The rules for conveying a negative feeling are that you should use a positive word preceded by "not," e.g. not nice instead of bad. I don't know how widespread this practice is and I'm sure my friends with the chart would be taken about by how directly I speak to my children when I'm letting them know their behavior is "not nice," e.g. inappropriate, unacceptable, etc.

P.S. The English teachers in middle school banned the use of good, nice, and bad in all writing and speaking assignment because they were not descriptive and told the reader/listener nothing.

Anonymous said...

You'll be pleased to know ProfK that I've only sinned and used the forbidden words nice and good 5 times since leaving your class. And yes, I did teshuva.

And if anyone thinks this is all so much nonesense (and I admit I kind of wondered about it when the Prof red-penciled all the goods and nices on our papers) and that nobody cares about the words you use, I was in competition for a management position in my company. I honestly thought the other person would get it but he didn't. I did. And they told me later that I got it because when I write and speak I sound like someone who is a manager, I sound like someone who is educated. So, if you want to get ahead, stop sounding nice and start sounding promotable.

Anonymous said...

I understand the point you are making and agree with most of it but aren't there any exceptions? Sometimes I hear people speaking and it's like they are pulling out every twenty syllable word they know just to impress people. If a teacher tells a student "That was a good point you just made" isn't that just as clear as if the teacher said "That was an insightful point you just made" or "That was impressive commentary on your part on the subject under discussion"? I can think of a few places where good and nice seem to be the words that would fit the situation the best.