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Pins And Needles: I Am Not Nice

"Nice is an insipid, namby-pamby, non-descriptive adjective.'' declares Gloria MacKay. "In some circles nice functions as a compliment but in my personal thesaurus the word describes someone who is as deep as a pie plate and as complex as glucose...''

And it would be altogether inadequate to say that Gloria writes a nice column. An entertaining column, yes. An unmissable column, yes, yes. A brilliant column, yes, yes, yes!

To enjoy more of Gloria's writing please click on Pins And Needles in the menu on this page.

I am not nice and donít you forget it, please. I know other women who are not nice either, and we like it this way. Itís not that we think we are unworthy of the word, it is the word which is not worthy of us. We were handed the reputation ó we didnít solicit it, we donít deserve it, we donít want it.

Nice is an insipid, namby-pamby, non-descriptive adjective. In some circles nice functions as a compliment but in my personal thesaurus the word describes someone who is as deep as a pie plate and as complex as glucose. A word we stick in a sentence when weíre looking for an innocuous way to fill space, like popcorn in a packing box or grated zucchini in a chocolate cake.

I like to think I am better than that.

Nice is a word "which comes in handy" when we really donít care. What do we say when a child draws us a picture and rushes up with arms outstretched. "Isnít that nice," we murmur with half-a-mind and scarcely a glance. We stop at the supermarket and ask the butcher to pick us out "a nice little rump roast." And when we get ready to pay there is the checker instructing everyone in line to "Have a nice day". Our tea is nice and hot, our milk is nice and cold, our beds, nice and warm and even Sinatra belted out an enthusiastic nice and easy. Why not simply hot, cold, easy and warm? Nice is a say-nothing word.

The pressure of behaving nicely all the time can stunt a personís growth, if not physically then mentally. (Arenít "nice" women always referred to as girls?) Some girls think niceness is the ultimate goal for a woman, so they train themselves to be it at any cost. They flaunt their niceness, as though life is a recital and they are on stage. Then there are those who, even when they donít feel nice act nice because they, too, have been convinced that nice is always the socially superior way to behave. The motto engraved on their hearts is "If you donít feel it, fake it".

The rest of us donít want to be called nice because even though we know how to do it and sometimes we want to be it, nice implies a stereotyped way of responding which is often insipid, sometimes inappropriate and not necessarily in oneís own best interest. Being nice often creates a moral dilemma. How should a nice girl act in the presence of wickedness, immorality, depravity and sin when evil is not easily dispelled by niceness. Thatís the trouble when you choose to accept a one-dimensional persona. Before you realize it you have painted yourself into a corner and you have to stand there and grin like you planned it that way all along.

I feel like a charlatan when someone says I'm a nice lady. I want to ask, "How can you know? How do you know whether I do nice things for everyone or just for you?" Actually, sometimes I do and sometimes I donít. Does this make me a nice girl part of the time or a partly nice girl all of the time?

And how, for instance, should a nice girl act when a nice guy tells her a dirty joke? And itís really funny? If a nice girl laughs at his not nice jokes does that more her more or less nice?


No wonder I don't want to be nice for the rest of my life, Just hearing the word makes me edgy. Too much nice is as bad a habit as too much chocolate or too much sleep. Once I joked to a neighbor that I gave up being nice for Lent one year and found it so satisfying I never went back to it. She didn't laugh. I was just kidding, it was really ironing I gave up but I didn't dare tell her the truth.

My favorite authority on words, E.B White, in the book Elements of Style he wrote with William Strunk refers to "nice" a shaggy, all-purpose word that should be used sparingly. As a matter of style he also advises putting emphatic words of a sentence at the end.


I am not nice

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