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452. Opposition (IV)



It is nearly Christmas, so, of course, Santa has made a list—which he will check twice—so as to determine who has been naughty or nice. But what do we mean by “naughty” or “nice”, anyway? A while ago I observed, in a crib from Nietzsche, that “niceness” equates to weakness; even the most unpleasant men become nice and meek when they are ill. Actually, I thought about myself here—when I get sick I lose all my fierceness and become more dependent and amiable.


The intuition that niceness is just weakness is confirmed by the etymology, “nice” derives from the Old French for “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish”—in Old English it also suggested “ignorance”. So to be “nice” is not a state to aspire to—and yet neither should we aspire to be its usual antonym, “nasty”; and, unless we want no presents from Santa, we should avoid “naughtiness” too.


Ultimately, “nice” derives from the Latin nescius and this literally means “not-knowing”—it means “ignorance” or “unawareness”. The root is the same as -scire (to know), from which we get “science”—indeed, you could say “niceness” is not necessarily the antonym to “naughtiness” or “nastiness”, it is the antonym to science. In short, to be nice is to be unscientific—it is to prefer ignorance to knowledge; science is not nice, possibly it is naughty or nasty—to know is Luciferian. I suppose this is why being nice is associated with being an amiable dolt—a bien-pensant, a good-thinker—who always reckons it will turn out for the best and is rather ineffective, nice milky tea with lots of sugar. Nice people are basically ignorant about how the world works and so are weak or taken advantage of easily. I suppose this is why niceness is not the same as kindness, the latter being to treat people like kin; to do so may or may not be advisable, yet the nice person treats everyone as kin—even when it is against their interests.


As for “nasty”, the connotations are with everything putrid, foul, and dirty. A suggested etymology links it to the Dutch “nestig,” a bird’s nest; and a bird’s nest is, of course, filled with avian ordure—and so a nasty thing has literally fouled its own nest. The term has a fairly long sexual connotation, from at least the 16th century, but seems to have come to refer to a person’s character particularly in America. By the 1870s “nasty” was considered “unfit to be used in the presence of ladies” in America; contemporary American slang retains “she nasty”—with connotations of sluttishness or sexual impropriety—and this must be linked to the way the word had come to be about a person’s character, particularly sexual, in 19th-century America.


“Naughtiness”, I feel, is not so bad as nastiness—a naughty person is surely somewhat likeable, deep down. The word derives from “0”, nought, quite literally; by extension, it suggests someone who is “worth nothing”—then again, “0” is a mysterious number; perhaps this is why “naughtiness” is not so bad as nastiness. Naughty children might be “good-for-nothing” now, but they have some boisterous potential; similarly, “naughty” has sexual connotations, yet not as debauched as with “nasty”—the “cheeky kiss under the mistletoe” is naughty, not nasty.


Ultimately, “naughty” derives from the Old Saxon neowiht—literally, from the PIE, ne-wiht (not a thing, creature, being). What could this entity that is not a thing, creature, or being “be”? A question to ponder; indeed, perhaps the answer is divine. Hence, if we follow the etymology, we must conclude that to be on Santa’s “nice” list is no great compliment—even if the jolly fellow gives you candy canes and other delectable treats—and, similarly, to be “naughty” is not so bad. Naughty people are rather boisterous and active, being full of potential and healthy sexual energy—perhaps, as it turns out, the naughty people will be the first to know.


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