Not nice, not silly, actually rather awful

My latest article for The Week is about words with meanings that have travelled quite a bit over the centuries. It’s not that they’ve clouded or warped the senses, but their histories are likely to throw you, or at least leave you in doubt.

11 words whose meanings have completely changed over time


2 responses to “Not nice, not silly, actually rather awful

  1. Two sides of the same coin:

    Maternal * Paternal Maternity * Paternity

    And yet, when you are requested to get permission from your Mom and Dad is is called “parental” consent, parental being an anagram of paternal.

    In a same sex relationship with two moms, would you need marental consent?

    Just wondering.


  2. This was fascinating! I love learning about how meanings develop over time. Their progressions actually make an… *awful* … lot of sense (hehe) when you see them laid out.

    The only one I was little puzzled on was “nice,” because I’m not aware of this slang meaning “ignorant.” When I say “Nice!” it’s an exclamation meaning “That’s good news!” or “Good for you!” And that’s the only way I’ve heard others use it too. Perhaps using it to mean “ignorant” is regional?

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