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1. A lack of musical ability, especially in relation to proper pitch. Unfortunately, most karaoke singers have a tin ear.
2. The inability to recognize subtleties in language. Don't try to joke around with him—he has a tin ear and can't distinguish sarcasm.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
Fig. a poor ear for music; a poor hearing ability when it comes to music and distinguishing pitches. I think I had better not try to sing along with you. I have a tin ear and would ruin your performance.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
An insensitivity to conditions. The term, dating from the first half of the 1900s, was originally used for a person insensitive to music, in effect tone-deaf. In time, it was transferred to other kinds of insensitivity, as in “The President might also point out that BP is not on Americans’ most-trusted corporations list right now—partly because of its carelessness, partly because of its executive’s tin ear” (editorial, New York Times, June 12, 2010).
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer