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What Exactly Does “A Nice Guy” mean?

January 21st, 2011 by Michael Tabor

How many times do we hear the statement “he’s a nice guy” or more frequently “he’s a really nice guy?” Everyday several times each day, right? But, what exactly does a nice guy mean – exactly? I imagine that everybody at sometime has been referred to by someone as a nice guy at one time or another even if he or she (I’ll be using the masculine he and guy throughout the rest of the blog, though I’m referring to both sexes, i.e. “really nice woman”) may not be a “nice guy”.

Let’s begin by attempting to define this much generalized, ambiguous, non-informational, non-specific, trite phrase, shall we? When we look up the word nice in the dictionary there’s a plethora of definitions but I think the best way to go about defining this word is eliminating what were not referring to when we utter nice guy and see what we’re left with. I think we can all agree that we’re not referring to a refined (a very refined, anal retentive and pedantic individual can be perhaps be the most incredibly annoying and disagreeable personage one is apt to encounter) person, nor a subtle, fussy, finicky and fastidious person. No, what we’re really saying when we say he’s a nice guy is – this person is temperamentally pleasing, agreeable, non-confrontational, kind, amiably pleasant, perhaps mellow, easygoing and laid-back (but not necessarily), non-threatening, well – nice guy.

Not only is the phrase difficult to define in terms of laser beaming the definition with a few words or perhaps a sentence; but a nice guy is also very relative. One person’s idea of a nice guy can be another’s worst nightmare. Prison guards, prisoners, MMA fighters, bounty hunters, members of the mafia, cops, border patrolmen and Howard Stern have all been called a “nice guy” at one time or another by someone.

Not only is nice guy difficult to specifically define and an ambiguous relative idiom, the parameters are boundless. What do we call Mother Teresa? And furthermore the intensifying superlatives are limited to very, real, really and maybe super; so I guess you can call Mother Theresa a super duper, really, very real “nice” woman.

So WHADAWETHINK ?      Shouldn’t we be more specific with our use of language? Shouldn’t we call Mother Teresa a world renowned internationally famed humanitarian? Or Bill Gates (somebody has called him a nice guy) a soft-spoken, Philanthropic billionaire? Oh and very often anyone who is highly-motivated, ambitious and competitive is more infrequently called a nice guy than someone who lies on the couch all day eating ice cream, living off someone’s inheritance and watching Oprah – a loafer.

So in addition to all the aforementioned I might add is being called a “nice guy” even a compliment?  I invite everyone to comment and open this up.

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51 Responses to “What Exactly Does “A Nice Guy” mean?”

  1. le duke de fromage Says:

    isnt it more a reflection of todays lifestyle, by refusing to get involved with people, or possibly too self absorbed too really understand or analyze people. language has also become an effort,whereby people toss out the latest catch phrase without too much brain effort, and move on to more superficial matters. everyone talks ,but nobody listens. as long as you play, youre a nice guy. you hit it, trite is the word. incidently, the nice guy in the picture looks just like my brother, a really nice guy.

  2. Michael Tabor Says:

    You have really nailed it – Great insight! In a nutshell, this is an accurate portrayal of the new generation of self-absorption and instant gratification. Writing, speaking and just communicating with thought and precision takes time and care and our new generation is just too self-absorbed to put any effort into this.The English language can be cumbersome; it’s much easier to use – LOL (another blog btw). I really did LoL when you mentioned your really nice guy brother. Thanks for your always thoughtful remarks.

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