Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The worst four-letter word in the English language

The worst four-letter word in the English language.

Not what you might think of first of all, dear reader! When I attended my first English language class at my new secondary school, way back in 1962, the head of English came into the room. As was the custom at that time, my new form-mates and I rose from our seats in recognition of a master entering the room. After being gestured to sit down again, he took the register, (always carried out before every lesson) and then proceeded to ask a question of his new, first form pupils, who were already rather nervous and apprehensive about what to expect. His opening words to us, looking back, were at first a bit of an ice-breaker, then followed by a fair warning that was always carried out, without exception. He asked us what we thought was the worst four-letter word in the English language. You might imagine what a class of about twenty or so young lads had in their minds. It was normal for a pupil or pupils to be chosen, fairly randomly by the master, to give the answer. Not wishing to give voice to what was in our minds, we rapidly thought of reasonable alternatives. The answer was always wrong.

The master, having had his fun, would then enlighten us and give the warning. The answer, gentlemen, he said, is the word nice. He continued... If you ever use that word in an essay which you submit for my scrutiny and marking, you will be given no mark at all and be required to submit another essay, to be completed and handed to me the following morning, in addition to one you were given. He elaborated. The word nice he said, means nothing at all. To describe something as nice diminishes the English language. Is it wonderful, beautiful, magnificent, dreadful, gruesome, awe-inspiring, amazing? But nice? Oh no, that will not do gentlemen, that will not do at all.

I have never forgotten those words, I fall into the trap of saying nice sometimes, but when I do, I silently apologise to that master. I have never forgotten his name either, thank you for your teachings, Mr. Walsh.


  1. I seem to remember having this drilled into us at school as well but I happen to like the word "nice" as it's particularly suitable when describing people!! Would like to hear more of your school days perhaps accompanied by an embarrassing photo or two?

  2. Thank you for your comment. As for describing people as nice, I don't think I have ever been described as such, many other descriptions, yes, (I leave it to your imagination) but nice, never! As for the school days, yes, there will be more to come, especially as schools are now locked firmly in the grip of the health and safety enforcers. Oh, please, don't get me started, that's another post for another time. As for embarrassing photographs, I will have a look through my archives, hopefully you will not have to wait long!