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niche (nĭch, nēsh)
1. A recess in a wall, as for holding a statue or urn.
2. A cranny, hollow, or crevice, as in rock.
a. A situation or activity specially suited to a person's interests, abilities, or nature: found her niche in life.
b. A special area of demand for a product or service: “One niche that is approaching mass-market proportions is held by regional magazines” (Brad Edmondson).
4. Ecology
a. The function or position of an organism or population within an ecological community.
b. The range of environmental conditions within which the members of a given species can survive and reproduce.
tr.v. niched, nich·ing, nich·es
To place in a niche.

[French, from Middle French, either from nicher, to nest (from Old French nichier, from Vulgar Latin *nīdicāre, from Latin nīdus, nest; see sed- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) or from Old Italian nicchia, niche (probably from nicchiuo, seashell (in reference to the arched, concave form of niches, resembling a seashell), perhaps from Latin mītulus, a kind of mussel, of unknown origin).]

Usage Note: Niche was borrowed from French in the 1600s and Anglicized shortly thereafter. Many French borrowings have troublesome pronunciations, because most English speakers can't speak French very well, if at all. Niche presents an interesting variation of this pattern. It was quickly converted into a comfortable English-sounding word, pronounced (nĭch) and rhyming with itch. But in the 1900s, people familiar with French thought that a word that looked French should sound French, and so the Francophone pronunciation (nēsh), rhyming with quiche, was revived. Some Americans consider this pronunciation to be an affectation; however, it is standard in Britain and is included in most American dictionaries. The hybrid pronunciation (nēch), which takes something from each version to rhyme with leech, is less favored, perhaps because it makes one look as though one doesn't know what language one is speaking. In our 2005 survey, 69 percent of the Usage Panel found it unacceptable.
(click for a larger image)
niche in the façade of Merchant Seamen's Hospital Houses
North Yorkshire, England

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.