Why Nice Should Be Banished From the English Language

Posted on /by Natalie Sisson/ in Entrepreneurs / 55 comments

Anybody who knows me well knows that I hate the word nice. Ironically I very rarely use the word hate, but when it comes to nice it’s the perfect adjective.

There’s a deeper point to my dislike for this word – it comes down to the power of language and how that impacts the type of life you live. If you’ve ever heard those people who just sound like they always have problems in life I challenge them to look at the language they’re using.

You’ll find words like “I can’t, it’s not fair, I’ll try, maybe someday, and it’s not possible”. Or how about “Never, ever, always” as in “I’m never going to be rich”, “I’m always having bad luck?” No wonder they’re getting nowhere, just look at what they’re telling themselves every day.

In this post I will attempt to explain how to lead a more fulfilling life and ensure you are talking the talk and walking the walk! You’ll find your clients will love you more too when you start using powerful words that attract them to you.

My mission if you should you choose to accept it

Since 2006, I’ve been on a mission to ensure people think twice before they say “Oh, that is a nice dress” or “We went to a nice concert” or “Isn’t it a nice day?”.

I still get emails or messages to this day from friends I admonished years ago about using the word nice, who finally understood what I meant and have tried changing up their lingo for the better.

In my mind, of the million or so English words in the dictionary there could not be any word more bland, boring and overused than nice.

I mean let’s face it when you ask your friend how their date was and they say `Oh he/she was nice’ you know straight off they were nothing to write home about. If someone goes to a show and they say it was `nice’ it doesn’t inspire me to want to go.

Nice often means lackluster. And in some cases I get that nice is the most fitting word to describe something. But in general – in my world anyway, if you use it around me I will pull you up on it.

The background story to my aversion to nice

This story is actually pretty funny and I often explain it to people who wonder why I react so strongly when they use nice. After hearing it they often understand where I’m coming from.

My friend who lives in New Zealand asked me a question back in early 2006.

F: “Nat, can I ask you a question?”

Me: “Sure. What’s up”

F: “So you know name shall remain nameless, well we finally hooked up last night. She’s liked me for ages and well, we were drinking and one thing led to another…”

Me: “Wow really? And how was it?”

F: “Well it was good but I think I screwed up. After we had sex she said ‘Oh my god that was amazing, how was it for you’ and I replied ‘Oh that was really nice’ Anyway she flipped out on me”.

Me: “Oh _____ you didn’t say nice did you? That’s like the biggest insult especially in bed”.

F: “But it’s all in the intonation, I said really nice!”

Me: “It doesn’t matter, it’s still the worst thing you could say, it means it’s nothing to write home about. I mean you could have just made some satisfied sound like ‘mmmmmm’.”

F: “Hmmm, I see your point”.

The Power of Language

Ok so that may not give you the full picture but basically from that moment on I started listening out for how frequently nice was used in everyday language. I was surprised at how often it came up in conversation even to describe something incredible.

So over the last 5 years I’ve been attempting to understand the deeper meaning to this and I’ve come up with some results and conclusions:

  • We are lazy. We use common words because it’s easy
  • We only know and use 10% of the words in the English language (made % up but close to true)
  • We don’t express our passions enough in our everyday language
  • We are used to using words that don’t inspire anything

This is a problem for several reasons. You are what you think. You are also what you say. Listen to people like Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson or any other inspirational person.

Their everyday language is supercharged with powerful words like `juiced, victory, empowering’. They demand attention. They state their position in no uncertain terms. They change their mood and mindset through their use of words.

I’m pretty sure Richard does not say “It would be nice if we could get someone into space on Virgin Galactica some day’.

If you tell yourself everyday that you’re fat or lazy or not good enough – guess what that’s what you’ll start to believe.

If you tell yourself you’re amazingly talented, that life is wondrous, that you are extraordinarily lucky then you will be begin to believe this and will adjust your mindset accordingly. This will in turn lead to you living your best life and inspiring others to do the same.

That last sentence may sound a little over the top but try it. Who wants to live an ordinary life where things are nice and safe and bland and dull and boring. Not me.

By the way a wise person once said:

Owing to the vibratory power of words, whatever man voices, he begins to attract.

So tell yourself you will be rich and powerful and happy and fulfilled and you shall attract that, `one day’ at a time – even sooner if you believe in your spoken word.

And while I’ve had several friends berate me on my use of superlatives I’d far prefer to use these over nice any day because that’s how I think, that’s how I see my life, that’s how I operate and it’s why I’m positive, optimistic and blessed.

Someone pointed that out to me on Twitter the other day when they said I always sounded so positive about life no matter what – that’s because I am. If you don’t hang out with people who see the best in most situations and use words that make you feel invigorated, optimistic and excited then I suggest you take a look at your current company.

I realize that life gets in the way, it can often suck, things go wrong, you get crabby, stuff doesn’t work out and shit happens. But if you choose your words wisely you cans surpass all of these trivial moments and turn them around for the better.

What words do you use too frequently that aren’t helping you to have a different outlook on life and feel more grateful?

If you don’t agree with me on nice then let’s fight it out below 😉

  • kmwithvanessa

    Totally agree! Nice is used when you have NOTHING else to say, it’s a way to escape from saying what you truly feel. People don’t understand the power of words (watch Maya Angelou on OWN’s Master’s Class). Great article!

    • NatalieSisson

      @kmwithvanessa I still have not watched Maya Angelou but quote her all the time. I must get on to that thanks for the reminder and the lovely comment

  • Thank you! Nice has lost its meaning because everyone uses it when they have nothing to say. Unfortunately some people (and I’m also guilty of this at times) replace the emptiness of nice with other words. This must change.

    • NatalieSisson

      @Sushi yes I agree, it’s a filler word too. I must admit to using it on the Ultimate Frisbee field because it’s short and I say it with a hugely positive intonation too 😉

  • NaomiNiles

    Omg, I am so happy you said this. In high school, I got voted “nicest” in class senior year. Nobody could figure out why I was slightly miffed by it. Wish I had this article back then!

    • NatalieSisson

      @NaomiNiles I can see why Naomi, I give people the look of death when they say I’m really nice 😉 Could I be any more dull I think? Call me a bitch, call my crazy, call me an adventurer but please don’t call me nice!

  • chrisguillebeau

    Nice post! Oops.

    • NatalieSisson

      @chrisguillebeau No you didn’t!

  • clementyeung

    Damnit @chrisguillebeau , you totally beat me. Nice one bro.

    Let’s indeed think twice about our language. First time I realized language plays a huge part in the outcome of my life, was when I listened to Anthony Robbins’ “Personal Power 2”. Wow, what a kick in the ass.

    IF you want to see someone that has a knack of using language in one of the most self-destructive ways possible, I’ll introduce you to my mother. I’ve still not been able to convince her that her negative downtalk is further imprisoning her in a cycle of negative moods! Bless her.

    • NatalieSisson

      @clementyeung @chrisguillebeau that’s freaky Clement because I’ave had Tony Robbins Personal Power on my computer for a long time – as well as Get the Edge and it was yesterday I came across it again to transfer it on to my iPhone finally and listened to that very recording.

      In addition my sister and I were just discussing the same about our Mum over the last 5 days. The type of language she uses on herself and us that is just not getting her anywhere. Do you think there’s any way to help our Mums change that cycle or is it up to them to change themselves and if they really wanted to they would have by now?

  • LadyEeyore

    What words do you use too frequently that aren’t helping you to have a different outlook on life and feel more grateful?

    I’m a too frequent user of “can’t” – I have been ever since I was a young child. I found the saying “there’s no such word as can’t” ridiculous even though the utterers of such meant well (mother).

    “Can’t” for me is a fear thing (as opposed to a laziness thing) and although I’ve mostly overcome my perfectionist tendencies (“if I can’t be perfect at this, there’s no point continuing*”), I still have “can’t” rattling around in my brain, even if I don’t say it out loud. Even though I’ve read really inspiring writing about resistance as a defense mechanism and overcoming it through micro-movements (for example), momentum often gets lost somewhere along the way, these days often when there is a financial risk involved (“I can’t afford that”).

    *I’d try anything, and be quite good at a lot of it, but never got to the mastery stage – especially if I saw someone who was already better at it than me (egomaniacal, I know).

    • NatalieSisson

      @LadyEeyore can’t is a word used by many so you’re not alone at all. Another one is won’t which is worse 😉 I think teh other word you’ve used in your last sentence that I aim to banish is `try’ – my favourite quote is from Yoda on that front: “There is no try, there is only do or do not.” I live by it every day.

      Try changing your sentence to say `I will be able to afford this _____ by doing this action ______ each and every single day’ or even better `I can afford this because I’m worth it’. Little changes will start to make a noticeable difference in you overcoming your fears – and as Chris G says `what’s the worst that can happen’ if you push through your fears and do what’s holding you back? Really.

  • StanleyLee

    “Nice” is used to encourage lazy language usage. Btw, you have a typo in your headings. May want to fix it 😉 (I don’t think you need me to point out which one it is).

    • NatalieSisson

      @StanleyLee Damn good spotting, not sure how that happened. I could have come back with some funny joke about how since I’ve omitted using Nice in the English language that I had to replace it with a new word of my own – my own special `language’

  • FuelTheMuse

    I am also on a crusade against ‘nice’. So was Jane Austen – it’s been a problem for over 200 years!

  • DrShannonReece

    Powerful post, Natalie! (I learned a lesson reading Chris’s comment below, and your reaction) 🙂 There is tremendous power in the words we speak to ourselves and to others, so we must always operate with sensitivity to both.

    Perhaps it is laziness. I do think that we all get a bit too comfortable in our forms of expression, and truly need to bump things up about 10 notches to create a challenge once in a while. What ever happened to being pithy? I digress…

    The comment I wanted to share after reading your post is about the “name it and claim it” perspective. While I agree that you need to wholeheartedly believe and speak to the future you want, you cannot have just any future you desire. Every person was beautifully created with specific talents to share with the world, and yet most seek to pursue paths other than their own. Why? Perhaps someone told them to, or they think it’s the “sensible” choice, or they are afraid to really go after what they know they were born to do. No matter the reason, happiness, fulfillment, and true success are greatly limited when you spend your time and effort in pursuits that don’t leverage your gifts and minimize your weaknesses. If you are seeking an uphill climb in life, then by all means, spend your life trying to overcome your weaknesses in pursuit of someone else’s dreams. OR you could chuck what the world deems a “nice” life for the extraordinary life you could be living.

    So if we are talking about choosing the right words, pick the ones that describe the future you desire, but make sure they aligns with who you are at your core, and your highest values.

    That’s my two cents…

    Shannon

  • I’m going to make a couple comments here 🙂

    First, why does it ultimately matter how someone else uses the english language? If someone personally wants to switch to more powerful diction, that’s fine. But I don’t personally understand why someone would go out their way to critique another person’s use of language if that person has no personal issue with it? As an example, if someone is using the word nice and they are lambasted them for it, and they suddenly go from feeling good about something to feeling bad about that same thing, would you say that the interference made a positive or a negative contribution to the actual enjoyment of the situation? I would argue it’s a negative one.

    I’ve also been on dates before where I’m pretty sure I would have been added to the girl’s “do not call” list had I gone ahead and said something like this “wow, I had the most amazing time with you at dinner. It was life changing, and I came home from dinner completely invigorated! I can’t wait to meet up again!”.

    Quick, delete the crazy, clingy guy from your phone!

    There’s a time and a place for passionate language, and I don’t personally think it’s pertinent to every situation. I fully agree we should set goals and try to shape aspects of our life, even language, to accomplish those, but I don’t believe in absolutism, that is that certain aspects (in this example, words) are always bad, or that others are always good. I think context is always relevant to the situation.

    But, great discussion! I had a nice time in the comments! 🙂

  • AngieBryant

    I love it! And they say that we are so very nice here in the PacNW- Can you imagine if they started saying that we were crazy bitches or introverted coffee suckers in the PacNW instead? Now THAT would be nice 😉 thx Natalie!

  • NatalieSisson

    Duane really good points. First off I just want to say I never lambasted anyone, I would comment in such a way that would make them interested in what .I was explaining, I’d never shoot someone down on it. That’s not my place to change their language – but I can share my opinion and seek to educate.

    I think if you went on a date and said that she may think you’re a little OTT but it’s better than , `Hey, maybe I’ll see you next week? I had a nice time’ – you’ll be memorable if nothing else.

    Shannon you’re spot on – my language or your language may not apply to someone who’s not us, and for them less use of superlatives would probably be more in line with who they are, but also there is merit to pushing yourself beyond your normal comfort zone with the use of words. I try it weekly – like how cool is the word discombobulated.

    There’s millions of words I don’t even know or use, exciting to think I can start learning my own mother tongue and discovering new ways of expressing myself. And I’ll pick words other than the one I just wrote of my future too 😉

  • BugsyMaroon

    I love it!! Thanks for the absolutely incredible breakdown of your passionate refusal to use to the word ‘nice’. I love the English language because of its breadth and depth–it’s the reason I hate cliches in sports!!

  • Kent_Healy

    Glad to see you’ve finally written a post about this concept–it definitely shouts “Natalie.” Ever since you’ve called me out on this, I have been conscious of the word and have tried to eliminate it from my vocabulary entirely. When you think about it, there is almost no situation appropriate for the word. It’s just banal. Period. Thanks for sharing this concept with the world. I think we’ll all be better off without this four letter word.

  • You’ve hit the nail right on the head with this article.
    Another word I find particularly awful is “fine”. How non committal is “fine”? What does it actually mean, except that you cannot be bothered to give an honest opinion?
    How unimpressed are you when you have cooked a meal for somebody or designed a card/gift etc and you ask their opinion and they answer “it’s fine” …

  • Hi Natalie
    Great post as usual – wanted to use that ‘nice post’ joke but was beaten to it! I hate the word ‘fine’ as in ‘How does this look?’ ‘You look fine’ – it may be a British thing because my friends husbands seem to use the term too! To me it says yes you look passable but no more, but I think it is just laziness or fear of saying the wrong thing! So I want to ban the phrase ‘you look fine’ please.

  • I agree with everything said here, yet…the suggestion “Be nice…” is one of the most helpful, and properly toned advisements there are. If said firmly its understatement can really diffuse a situation. If said gently, it opens up a space of communication. I don’t know why a word so poor at describing things and events is so good at commuicating a beneficial state, but it does.

    “She was nice” is nearly void of meaning.
    Telling a sales rep who is getting frustrated with a customer and starting to sharpen “Be nice” isn’t.

  • Reed

    My brother recently convinced me I should stop using the word should. That it should always be replaced by will or shall. But here you see how badly I’ve done with such an endeavor.

    Wondering if it’s still ok to say niiiiiiice. Because that does certainly sparkle just a bit more, in a bit of a lazy surfer way.

  • sunny22

    I absolutely understand that every word has power, and how the words we think and say determine our reality, (www.globalwelcome.com, Yvonne is my favorite linguist and writer on the subject so far) and her dislike of this on for her reasons… However, when I use this word it is generally said after someone makes a statement about an accomplishment, all by it self, standing alone in its niceness Or used as “Nicely Done” occasionally too… here is one of webster’s defs; possessing, marked by or demanding great or excessive precision and delicacy… I think those kiwis use it this way too as well as those from OZ- maybe thats where i picked it up. I really like it used in this context… the uses okay I may agree w her, but banished. Ouch… anyhoots enjoy the lovely day! Happy weekend! XX

  • sunny22

    Oops, your dislike and your reasons….

  • NatalieSisson

    @sunny22 I have to say I agree as so many of my friends use it with an intonation that gives it more life such as `Sweet as’ or `Nice one!’ and I understand that and even use it on occasion on the Ultimate Field in that way because it’s short but useful. However I’m talking more about in the everyday context – it was nice meeting you just makes me want to gag. I would hope meeting me is something way more exciting – good or bad – than just nice…..

  • NatalieSisson

    @Reed lazy surfer speak is certainly where I would expect to find nice. So I can give you a little slack on this one 😉 Should – great call by your brother, especially as `should’ really means `I would if I felt like doing this or prioritized it enough to do actually do it’. It’s close to `try’ – as Yoda said there is no try, there is only do or do not!

  • NatalieSisson

    @mediasres valid point there indeed. Although telling someone to be nice means `play safe, be civil, be cordial, act with manners’ and while I agree that people should have integrity and respect for people they deal with, I’m not sure I’d ever tell someone to be nice. I’d prefer to say `Be better, rise above, be remarkable, be your best self!’

  • NatalieSisson

    @mfsadler ok consider it banned. It’s also a word that we use (and women have been particularly guilty of this) when asked `Are you ok?’ and the person says `Yes I’m fine!’ when clearly they’re not – they’re angry pissed off or upset. Rather just say what’s on your mind!

  • BoilingIce

    Nice 🙂

  • Ali_Davies

    YES, YES, YES. Well said Natalie.

    I share your position on this. Language we use in our heads and verbally has a huge impact on our actions and otucomes. I would also add could, should and ought to to your list of words to be banished. In fact, there should be an alternative dictionary that lists all the words to be banished and why.

  • NatalieSisson

    @Ali_Davies I totally agree. Especially when people say `We should meet up sometime’ I know that means never so I call them out on it. If you don’t make it specific and actionable then someday, sometime never happens

  • To quote a tweet I once made:

    “#nobodyreads their 1st grade paper & thinks ” ‘Nice’ is a great adjective! ” I repeated it 20 times >_> #amwriting”

    I swear whenever I cop-out and use the word “nice,” I feel like that same child in grade school who spread such terms in superfluous quantities :(. I like to avoid the word at all costs. Its not that I think there is no situation that calls for it, its just that there is a punch bowl full of words that could suffice just as well.

    • Natalie

      I totally agree. Welcome to the club of non-nice users 😉

  • Nice post. 😉

    Seriously, I agree with you – people are much too lazy in their usage of language these days, and it’s contributing to an erosion of the communication skills that are integral to so many marketers (and other people).

    Thanks for taking a stand on this, and thanks especially for chatting on the phone today – it was great to connect and swap “war stories”. 😀

  • Hi Natalie – I love this statement:

    “If you don’t hang out with people who see the best in most situations and use words that make you feel invigorated, optimistic and excited then I suggest you take a look at your current company.”

    There are so many things to be grateful for today… if you can’t see or understand that, you need to have somebody slap you silly 😛

    Cheers Natalie!

  • Hi Natalie – I love this statement:

    “If you don’t hang out with people who see the best in most situations and use words that make you feel invigorated, optimistic and excited then I suggest you take a look at your current company.”

    There are so many things to be grateful for today… if you can’t see or understand that, you need to have somebody slap you silly 😛

    Cheers Natalie!

  • I have a tremendous respect for the English language, probably because I spoke Finn first, and had to learn English when I went to school. So I’m not a fan of what I call “plastic” words: words that mean everything and nothing, all at the same time. Our language is so rich: I keep up my habit of opening a dictionary (yes, the old-school hard-cover book variety:), placing my finger on a word, pronouncing it and learning its meaning.

    Beautiful words are the spice of life…I agree…nice isn’t one of them:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • girlygrizzly

    Natalie,

    Beautiful. Powerful. ..and now I have another “no say” word! Words, do have power and transmit our voices, whether out loud or on screen. I have been told I am too loud, too determined, too passionate about things. (shrug)

    I feel very strongly about what and who shares my life. I feel that there is an important purpose for each one us. I want to be ready for mine. To me that means to open my mind and heart, to learn all I can in each aspect of my life and the world’s life that I come into contact with. I want to be ready to help. Preparing and readying myself to fulfill my task, does not include my being milquetoast.

  • genejennings

    Natalie,

    I feel the same way about the word “great.” I think it’s overused and I’m as guilty as anyone of overusing it. I recently returned home from a trip near you (Singapore & Indonesia) and decided to deliberately describe it as “amazing” when people asked me about the trip.

    I’ve noticed that people perk up when I say “amazing” instead of “great.” Now, thanks to you, I’ll be self-conscious when I say “nice.”

    Great.

  • NatalieSisson

    @genejennings Yes they certainly do. It has that much power or punch. Nice is so banal. So – well nice. It has its place for sure but just not in my world or any people I like to hang out with.

  • CSKahler

    Dude, you’re so right! I almost feel like I insulted you now over in twitter haha. I definitely understand the impact of words through studying NLP and psychology, so this one wasn’t really hard to digest for me. It makes perfect sense.

  • Jaq Key

    @NatalieSisson lol. (feeling the inherent connection with this post)

  • NatalieSisson

    @CSKahler oh you can’t insult me for long 🙂 Word have a ton of impact. Imagine walking around each day telling people that they matter. How powerful is that. Or that they’re genius. That they are brilliant and they need to share that with the world

  • Amen to your last comment, sister! I love this post. And I LOVE superlatives. I’m freakin’ nuts about them. I totally think that people who don’t express themselves more fully are just being lazy, or completely out of touch with their creative mind. My BF is one of them…everything is always “good”. Argh!!!!!!

  • AlexP123

    I would rather be surrounded by nice “boring” people than have someone constantly judging whether my energy level or vocabulary use was sufficient for them. Are you that dependent on other people? There is something to be said for relaxing and personal contentment.

    If someone bakes cookies for me or brings me soup when I am sick they are being nice, I don’t have to come up with energizing superlative words to describe their caring. If they require that of me they are needy. I will reciprocate with another nice action towards them.
    Entertain yourself and stop expecting other people to make your life into an epic narrative.
    Funny this came up on a search for I dislike the word entrepreneur, and this article solidifies why. People mistaking their own mania for virtue and other people’s contentment for sloth.

    • Natalie

      Hey Alexander

      I think you missed the point on this. But you’re welcome to your opinion. If you dislike the word entrepreneur then you definitely don’t want to be on this blog though so that works out well for you and me.

  • AlexP123

    I would rather be surrounded by nice “boring” people than have someone constantly judging whether my energy level or vocabulary use was sufficient for them. Are you that dependent on other people? There is something to be said for relaxing and personal contentment.

    If someone bakes cookies for me or brings me soup when I am sick they are being nice, I don’t have to come up with energizing superlative words to describe their caring. If they require that of me they are needy. I will reciprocate with another nice action towards them.
    Entertain yourself and stop expecting other people to make your life into an epic narrative.
    Funny this came up on a search for I dislike the word entrepreneur, and this article solidifies why. People mistaking their own mania for virtue and other people’s contentment for sloth.

  • i like this article:
    The Power of Language

  • i like this article:
    The Power of Language

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  • Wow, thanks for explaining the process to a non tech. I have heard of
    sql injection before but didn’t quite understand what it really was
    before reading your article

  • Rickras

    today I went on a nice trip today with my nice father. The weather outside was really nice. On our way back home I spoke of how nice the trip was. After we got home we cooked up a really nice dinner. Overall it was a nice day.

    What did I really convey here? its rather quite meaningless and engaging. To add to that, I believe the word good is used just as much. We need to use them far less often if we really want to create and produce meaningful conversations.

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