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subtle

[suht-l] /ˈsʌt l/
adjective, subtler, subtlest.
1.
thin, tenuous, or rarefied, as a fluid or an odor.
2.
fine or delicate in meaning or intent; difficult to perceive or understand:
subtle irony.
3.
delicate or faint and mysterious:
a subtle smile.
4.
requiring mental acuteness, penetration, or discernment:
a subtle philosophy.
5.
characterized by mental acuteness or penetration:
a subtle understanding.
6.
cunning, wily, or crafty:
a subtle liar.
7.
insidious in operation:
subtle poison.
8.
skillful, clever, or ingenious:
a subtle painter.
Origin
1250-1300
1250-1300; Middle English sotil < Old French < Latin subtīlis subtile (b of modern spelling < L)
Related forms
subtleness, noun
subtly, adverb
hypersubtle, adjective
hypersubtleness, noun
nonsubtle, adjective
nonsubtleness, noun
nonsubtly, adverb
oversubtle, adjective
oversubtly, adverb
pseudosubtle, adjective
pseudosubtly, adverb
unsubtle, adjective
unsubtleness, noun
unsubtly, adverb
Synonyms
6. sly, tricky, foxy, slick.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples from the web for subtle
  • They orbit in a perpetual deep freeze until some subtle gravitational nudge upsets the delicate balance.
  • Vocabulary, for instance-older people know more words and understand subtle linguistic distinctions.
  • In fact, our own lives sometimes depend on recognizing the subtle differences.
  • The only way to make sense of these discoveries was to put similar species side by side and sort out the subtle differences.
  • Most of the time, though, the flaws were more subtle.
  • There's a subtle difference between being tough and being abusive.
  • The importance of first and corresponding author varies a lot, and in subtle ways, from discipline to discipline.
  • Meaning, especially anything subtle, is created by context and the teaching and evaluation contexts are separated by a continent.
  • Underneath his dark ironies, there is a rustic humor that has many subtle variations.
  • She was always full with mystery and subtle movements and denials and vague distrusts and complicated disillusions.
British Dictionary definitions for subtle

subtle

/ˈsʌtəl/
adjective
1.
not immediately obvious or comprehensible
2.
difficult to detect or analyse, often through being delicate or highly refined: a subtle scent
3.
showing or making or capable of showing or making fine distinctions of meaning
4.
marked by or requiring mental acuteness or ingenuity; discriminating
5.
delicate or faint: a subtle shade
6.
cunning or wily: a subtle rogue
7.
operating or executed in secret: a subtle intrigue
Derived Forms
subtleness, noun
subtly, adverb
Word Origin
C14: from Old French soutil, from Latin subtīlis finely woven
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for subtle
adj.

c.1300, sutel, soutil, in reference to things, "of thin consistency;" in reference to craftsmen, "skilled, clever," from Old French soutil, from Latin subtilis "fine, thin, delicate, finely woven," from sub "under" (see sub-) + -tilis, from tela "web" and texere "to weave" (see texture). The spelling with -b- reflects confusion with subtile. Most non-material senses were present by late 14c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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