I always thought the word was pronounced [neesh.] It seemed as if it was a special variation on the word nitch, which I thought was a real word. It turns out that there is no such word as nitch. The correct word is niche and it means what I thought nitch meant. It is that unique place which is designed or created just for the right person. Or, in more day-to-day usage, it is a place created in a wall where a special piece of statuary, a mural, or some other piece of art is intended to be placed.
In my mind, it was okay to pronounce a place in wall as a “nitch.” That sounded just right. But if you were talking about the special, unique, customized place in life where a person is supposed to find themself, that seemed like it deserved a more cosmopolitan pronunciation, and I would have said it was supposed to be [neesh.} But I'm wrong. Both meanings share the same pronunciation: niche is pronounced [nich] no matter how urbane or crude it may be. I’m disappointed.
Garner shares my search for correct pronunciation in his definitive text, Garner’s Modern American Usage.
“Although the pronunciation /neesh/ is heard among educated speakers, many consider it a pretentious de-anglicization of a word that has been anglicized since the 1700s.” (p. 567)
To search for one’s niche in existence may be a life-long endeavor. It begins with a lot of help from those who surround you, but eventually it has to become your own journey. Maybe the earlier influences affect the result, or maybe not. Sometimes a person is groomed for their niche, based upon education, experience, genes, or external influences. But there is always something inside of a person which nudges them along.
We hear stories all the time about a young man or woman who has been “selected” by parents and others in their immediate environment to be a doctor, lawyer, architect, or some other profession agreeable to everyone. And the young person tries hard to fit into that niche. But deep down inside the young person there is a longing, a desire, an urging which leads them to be an artist, musician, dancer, athlete, or some variant form of life endeavor. The conflict can be immense.
I’m always impressed with professional actors or musicians who, when asked about the plans for their child’s future, indicate that the main thing they want for their child is to be happy. They say they try very hard not to force their child into a copy-cat profession of their own. And I believe them. People in those high-profile positions discover early on that it isn’t all glamor. It is painful and there are tons of sacrifices.
A parent’s job is to listen to the child, identify the direction in which the child is moving, and do everything possible to assist the child in achieving (her) dream. In this day and age that may be a transient thing. The recent college graduate who has every plan to become a teacher or a forensic clinician may work at it for a period of time, only to discover that there is something else calling them to explore a totally divergent career.
When one finds their niche in life it may be visible to everyone around them. And it may not be glamorous. There are interesting stories of people from high-profile professions who decide to can it to become a nurse, a clergyperson, or an elementary school teacher. It is there that they discover peace, accomplishment, and a sense of well-being. What more could you ask of a person?
Illustration Credit: Technical Safari