5

From Byron's Don Juan:

It has a strange quick jar upon the ear,
That cocking of a pistol, when you know
A moment more will bring the sight to bear
Upon your person, twelve yards off, or so;
A gentlemanly distance, not too near,
If you have got a former friend for foe;
But after being fired at once or twice,
The ear becomes more Irish, and less nice.

What is the meaning of this? I looked up the meanings of Irish in Wiktionary, but remained a bit puzzled.

The ear becomes "more filled with anger/passion"? What is "less nice"? Maybe the ear is clipped by the bullet, and becomes malformed?

  • 1
    “The ear” means “the hearing” as in “she had an ear for music”. “Less nice” means less precise, less fussy, less accurate, less punctilious. “More Irish” I don’t know, although I suspect it’s derogatory in some way. Overall it means that the sound of your opponent cocking their pistol has less impact on you after you’ve fought a few duels. – A E Jul 6 '18 at 11:29
2

‘Nice’ has three senses in the OED that could work in this line:

3.b. Fastidious, fussy, difficult to please

4.a. Faint-hearted, timorous, cowardly, unmanly. Obsolete

10.b. Of the eye, ear, etc.: able to distinguish or discriminate to a high degree; sensitive, acute

The last of these corresponds well with the “strange quick jar upon the ear” from the first line of the stanza: the idea being that in your first duel you are acutely sensitive to the click of the hammer as the pistol is cocked, but the more duels you survive, the more accustomed you get to the sound.

The meaning of ‘Irish’ must be the opposite of whichever sense of ‘nice’ is chosen, that is, ‘coarse’ if ‘nice’ means ‘fastidious’, ‘brave’ if ‘cowardly’, and ‘stoical’ if ‘sensitive’. There are no senses of ‘Irish’ in the OED with these specific meanings, but there is a general sense which could cover any or all of them, depending on how we think Byron might have stereotyped the Irish:

Irish, adj. 5.a. Characteristic or typical of Irish people, life, or culture. In earlier use frequently with derogatory connotations.

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