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Showing posts from September, 2014

Word of the month: Nice! An Anglo-Norman insult.

English speakers may be surprised to learn that the etymology of nice is not very nice at all and that its semantic development is unparalleled in the Romance languages. This word, which style guides recommend that you avoid as it both ubiquitous and nearly devoid of all meaning, has a most complicated semantic evolution. The word nice is attested quite early in French – ca 1160 and has its roots in the Latin nescius , an adjective meaning ‘ignorant, unknowing’. [1] The word was used in French (and other Romance languages) in Middle English (c. 1400) to disparage people, actions and sayings as silly or foolish. This is the meaning the word retained in the Romance languages, though in French the word is rather uncommon today though you may find it in some older texts to refer to someone as simple or naive, such as those the TLF cites: Un brave homme, un peu nice, appelé Monthyon   ( Pommier, Colères, 1844 , p.66) The semantic development of the word nice  in English is a rat