Language/Writing Tip 14

The phrase “puts it nicely” or “shows nicely” can sound patronizing and, sometimes, downright grotesque.

1) Patronizing.

“Shakespeare puts it nicely when he has Hamlet say, ‘To be or not to be…'”

Well done, Bard!

(The problem here seems to be a combination of weak praise – since “nice” is the minimum of praise – and the seeming circularity – since writing an entire essay on Shakespeare implies that you have found many nice phrases.)

2) Grotesque.

“Shakespeare puts it nicely when he has Cornwall say to Gloucester, ‘See’t shalt thou never’ and ‘Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot.'”

There isn’t much that’s “nice” about blinding Gloucester.

(By the way, when you come across “nice” in older texts, try to determine the contemporary meaning. The adjective has had more lives than Madonna. At one time, “You look nice!” meant “You look foolish!”)

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