Nice. Such a simple word, so well known…and so surprising! I happened to click onto it on www.etymonline.com because it was a trending word, and I was so shocked to see its evolution!
Did you know that nice used to mean “foolish, stupid, senseless”? Apparently it’s from the Latin nescius, which is literally “not-knowing.” (Same root as science.)
Etymologists are struck by the development of this word. From that “foolish” use in the 1200s, the earliest days of English, it progressed to “timid” round about 1300, to “fussy, fastidious” by the end of the century, then to “dainty, delicate” around 1400. By 1500 it had moved into a meaning of “precise, careful” and stayed with that until the mid 1700s, when it came to mean “agreeable, delightful.” By the early-to-mid 1800s it could also be applied to people in a sense of “kind, thoughtful”–of course, those last two meanings are still in use today…but who knew that it started out meaning something so different?
The transformation is so big that many times when we read writings from the 1500s and 1600s, it’s impossible to tell which meaning the author intended!
Fascinating! Never would have guessed (so glad you clicked on that link!)