The Null Device

Don't talk to me about people who are "nice"...

Amelioration is the linguistic phenomenon by which negative words or phrases lose their negative associations over time and become innocuous or even positive. Recent examples are "bad" (meaning 'good') and the likes of "shut up!"/"get outta here!" (generally translated as "you don't say?"). The phenomenon, however, is an old one: a classic example is "nice", which, until the 13th century, meant "stupid". (via MeFi)

If this is an ongoing process, one could extend it to the future; i.e., if you're writing a story set some decades from now, you could have some phrase currently found unambiguously offensive used in an innocuous way in the dialogue (i.e., in 2030, something like "go bugger yourself" will mean "really?". For extra points, make the phrase colourful and/or anatomically implausible.)

There are 2 comments on "Don't talk to me about people who are "nice"...":

Posted by: Graham Wed May 14 14:23:33 2003

Reminds me of one nuance of our own idiom, where saying "Gazza is a bastard!" means you Gazza, whereas saying "Gazza is a bit of a bastard" means you detest Gazza.

Posted by: Graham Wed May 14 14:24:13 2003

I meant "you like Gazza" in the first instance.