Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon



quick, quicker, quickly, quicken

Related Terms



In Ulysses, as in broader linguistic contexts, quick seems most commonly to function as an adjective/adverb, describing the speediness of an object, actor or action. This literal, kinetic sense has led to many related figurative uses of quick, also frequently at play in Joyce's prose, including 'smart' (as in quick-witted, see definition I below for U 13.74) and 'hot-tempered' (as in hasty and impatient, reactionary, easily roused, for example U 15.4012).

Although considered somewhat archaic by modern lexical standards, quick can also designate animacy, or 'aliveness.' This sense has several grammatical realizations—in episode 9 it is a noun meaning 'the living, as opposed to the dead' (See definition III below for U 9.499-501), throughout the text it appears as an adjective meaning 'alive, energetic, or lifelike,' and it can also serve as a verb meaning 'to come to life or to give/restore life to something,' a definition which participates in the novel's theme of passive-active paradox. From these connotations we get additional specialized meanings, such as 'pregnant,' which is particularly activated in the maternity hospital of "Oxen of the Sun" (U 14.02-04, 14.169, 14.818), and 'to invent/spread a rumor.'

Many occurrences of quick are iterative and/or vocative exclamations. As such, they often stand apart in lists or independent sentences, separated from the surrounding context by punctuation (commas, exclamation points, etc). While in some cases the meaning seems, nevertheless, straightforward—as in "Come here sir! Quick!" (U 15.1122)—in other cases a detached quick may lend itself to a more complex or nebulous semantic interpretation, especially since we may not be able to definitively restrict it to any one part of speech. For example, consider the following passage from "Lestrygonians": "The flutter of his breath came forth in short sighs. Quick. Cold statues: quiet there" (U 8.1177-78). Here, the syntactically-isolated quick may be an adjective describing the brevity of his sighs, or an adverb describing the rapid manner of the flutter, or it may be an adjective or noun indicating life, contrasting the breather to the death-like inanimacy of the statues.

Associated forms include quicklime (U 6.985), doublequick (U 6.515, 16.875), quicker, quickly, quicken, quickening, and, considering Joyce's use of vowel alternation, perhaps even quack. See, for example, in episode 9, where quack may be interpreted as the influence of quick upon quake in the context of haste: "The quaker librarian, quaking, tiptoed in, quake, his mask, quake, with haste, quake, quack" (U 9.891-92).

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Quick, adj. and adv. (OED A.23, C.) Fast; Happening speedily or without delay.

    "His hasty hand went quick into a pocket, took out, read unfolded" (U 8.1184).

    "Cissy's quick motherwit guessed what was amiss and she whispered to Edy Boardman to take him there behind the pushcar where the gentleman couldn't see and to mind he didn't wet his new tan shoes" (U 13.74-76).

    • adj. Smart, bright, sharp. (OED A.20)
    • For a pun on "motherwit," especially ironic given that she is acting as a stand-in for the absent mother, consider also definition II below.

  2. II. Quick, adj. (OED adj.) and v. (OED v.1.1, 2) Alive, life-like, or animate; Pregnant; To come to life or to give/restore life to something; to inspire, to kindle.

    "Quick warm sunlight came running from Berkeley road, swiftly, in slim sandals, along the brightening footpath. Runs, she runs to meet me, a girl with gold hair on the wind" (U 4.239-41).

    • adj. Possessed of motion relating to nature, as in the shifting of the ground (as in quicksand) or the running and flowing of water. (OED A.18, A.19) Here, the metaphoric characterization of sunlight may operate simultaneously in two disparate directions—it is most obviously an instance of personification, but we can also consider it an invocation of this impersonal definition, likening the flow of light to the decisively non-human movement of water.

    "there was above one quick with child, a gentle dame, whose time hied fast" (U 14.167-68).

    "I knows a lady what's got a white swelling quick as I claps eyes on her" (U 14.817-18).

    • Here we may consider quick to incorporate the adjectival and verbal senses from II, as well as the adverbial sense from I, and perhaps even the noun sense of III (specifically the because the "swelling quick" is living, sensitive and wound-ish, and central).

  3. III. Quick, n. (OED B.3.a) The living; The highly sensitive area of an animal's finger or toe covered by the nail plate; Any part of a wound that is sensitive; The central part of something.

    "and there these nineteen hundred years sitteth on the right hand of His Own Self but yet shall come in the latter day to doom the quick and dead when all the quick shall be dead already" (U 9.499-501).

    "picked at and gently lacerated the protruding part of the great toenail, raised the part lacerated to his nostrils and inhaled the odour of the quick, then, with satisfaction, threw away the lacerated ungual fragment" (U 17.1488-91).

    • adj. Having a strong, pungent effect on the senses, as in smell or taste. (OED A.17.b) Although literally the quick refers to the body part he smells, it may also characterize the quality of the odor.

Related topics

Language and Linguistics
Light and Shadow
Sports and Competition
Thought and Action

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