The famous slogan about the strong and the weak comes, obviously, from the Athenian side of the argument, and its current popularity owes much to the nice balance between the powerful doing 'what they can' and the weak suffering 'what they must' -- as well as that iron law of inevitability (or realism, depending on your point of view) that is introduced by the phrase 'what they must.' But that is not what Thucydides wrote. As Simon Hornblower correctly acknowledges in the third and final volume of his monumental, line-by-line commentary on the whole of Thucydides' History, a more accurate translation is: 'The powerful exact what they can, and the weak have to comply.' (Source: Delancyplace.com)

Does this "nice" mean subtle?

Nice has many meanings. So I wondered what it meant.


It's a very "dated/formal" (if not actually "archaic/obsolete") usage. From OED...

nice - Precise or particular in matters of reputation or conduct; scrupulous, punctilious. (now rare)

Somewhat less dated in this context would be fine, but even that is no longer particularly current outside of academic/formal contexts. Most people would probably use something like subtle or delicate today.


In this context, nice means "neat" or "tidy".

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    Nah. Only in the very loosest "modern" usages (where nice is equated with agreeable, pleasant) would there be any particular sense of "neat/tidy". And even that would only be indirectly, by association. – FumbleFingers Oct 9 '13 at 17:24
  • @FumbleFingers The quotation in the OP appears to be from 2013--and if you're going to downvote, please do explain the marked distinction between "tidy" and "precise or particular". – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Oct 9 '13 at 17:27
  • I'm not with you. I thought I had explained the difference. Tidy has a wide range of meanings, but the first one that comes to mind for most people today is orderly, neatly arranged (as opposed to untidy). I'm not aware it ever has the sense of precise, particular. A "tidy sum", for example, isn't a specific, exact amount - it's a large amount. – FumbleFingers Oct 9 '13 at 17:53

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