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From Middle English asprete, asperite, from Old French aspreté, from Latin asperitās, from asper (rough). Doublet of asperitas.



asperity (countable and uncountable, plural asperities)

  1. The quality of being harsh or severe in the way one speaks or behaves toward people.[1]
    Synonyms: acerbity, harshness, severity, sharpness
    • 1583, Christopher Rosdell (translator), A Commentarie upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romanes by John Calvin, London: John Harrison and George Bishop, Chapter 7,[2]
      But least he shoulde offend the Iewes with the asperitie of the word, if hee had said that the lawe was dead, hee vsed a digression, or deflection, saying, we are dead to the law.
    • 1748, [Samuel Richardson], chapter 14, in Clarissa. Or, The History of a Young Lady: [], volume II, London: [] S[amuel] Richardson;  [], →OCLC, page 83:
      [] I see not that you can blame any asperity in Her, whom you have so largely contributed to make unhappy.
    • 1813 January 27, [Jane Austen], chapter 13, in Pride and Prejudice: [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to III), London: [] [George Sidney] for T[homas] Egerton, [], →OCLC, page 147:
      [] Mrs. Bennet [] assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen.
    • 1989, Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel[3], New York: Arcade, Book 1, Chapter 13, page 59:
      Sir Richard’s asperity invariably made the young man more nervous.
  2. The quality of being difficult or unpleasant to experience.
    Synonyms: harshness, rigour, severity
    the asperity of Maine’s winter
    • 1534, Thomas More, chapter 3, in A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation[4], London: Richard Tottel, published 1553:
      [] if the fayth were in our dayes as feruent as it hath been ere thys in tymes past, [] we should not much nede with wordes & reasonyng to extenuate and minishe the vigoure and asperitie of the paines, but the greater the more bytter that the passion were, the more ready was of old time, the feruour of faith to suffre it:
    • 1750, Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No. 32, Volume 1, London: J. Payne and J. Bouquet, 1752, p. 278,[5]
      [] if punishment fall upon innocence, [] patience [] is much easier, since our pain is then without aggravation, and we have not the bitterness of remorse to add to the asperity of misfortune.
    • 1836 March – 1837 October, Charles Dickens, chapter 8, in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1837, →OCLC, page 80:
      Whether the probability of escaping from the consequences of this ill-timed discovery was delightful to the spinster’s feelings, or whether the hearing herself described as a “lovely woman” softened the asperity of her grief, we know not.
  3. The quality of having a rough or uneven surface.
    Synonyms: bumpiness, roughness, ruggedness, unevenness
    Antonym: smoothness
    • c. 1553, Humphrey Llwyd (translator), The Treasury of Healthe, London: William Coplande, “A Boke conteyning the names of compound medecines,”[6]
      Oyle of swete Almondes and of sisami taketh away the asperitie and roughenesse of the throte.
    • 1693, Edmund Bohun, A Geographical Dictionary[7], London: Charles Brome, page 100:
      This Island [Corsica] has ever been ill inhabited by reason of the Asperity of a great part of it, and the great difficulty of approaching it.
    • 1893, Edward Harrison Barker, Wanderings by Southern Waters: Eastern Aquitaine,[8], London: Richard Bentley, page 225:
      Dry, chaffy, or prickly plants, corresponding in their nature to the aridity and asperity of the land, were peculiarly at home upon the undulating stoniness.
  4. (countable) Something that is harsh and difficult to endure.
    • 1651, Thomas Hobbes, chapter 44, in Leviathan[9], London: Andrew Crooke, page 334:
      Whence comes it, that in Christendome there has been, almost from the time of the Apostles, such justling of one another out of their places, both by forraign, and Civill war? such stumbling at every little asperity of their own fortune, and every little eminence of that of other men?
  5. (countable) An area that protrudes from a surface.
    Synonyms: bump, protuberance
    • 1768, Mr. Yorick [pseudonym; Laurence Sterne], A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, volumes (please specify |volume=I or II), London: [] T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt, [], →OCLC, pages 171-172:
      [] like so many rough pebbles shook long together in a bag, by amicable collisions, they have worn down their asperities and sharp angles, and [] become round and smooth
    • 1937, Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana[10], London: Macmillan, Part 2, p. 56:
      A match flickers, a lantern lights up the asperities of the mud wall;
    • 1979 April, J.M. Challen, P.L.B. Oxley, “An explanation of the different regimes of friction and wear using asperity deformation models”, in Wear, volume 53, number 2, →DOI, pages 229–243:
      A slip-line field analysis is given for the deformation of a soft asperity by a hard one and equations are derived for the corresponding coefficients of friction and wear rates.
  6. (countable, geology) A section of a fault line with high friction, such that there is no movement along this part of the fault except during an earthquake. [since 1981]
    • 1990, Geological Survey (U.S.), National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, Summaries of Technical Reports Volume XXXI, page 333:
      We inferred that the locking of asperities did cause higher stresses associated with earthquake cycle itself to occur in areas adjacent to asperities, both updip and downdip from them, and that such stressing has been much less pronounced []
    • 1995, Ren Wang, Keiiti Aki, Mechanics problems in geodynamics. 1 (1995), Springer Science & Business Media, →ISBN, page 537:
      The most likely mechanism for the latter is the accumulation of elastic strain around isolated locked asperities of the fault []
    • 2014, Victor Gioncu, Federico Mazzolani, Earthquake Engineering for Structural Design, CRC Press, →ISBN, page 222:
      These asperities are distributed in a fractal manner and each fault contains small and large asperities.


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  1. ^ Thomas Blount, Glossographia, London: George Sawbridge, 1661: “Asperity [] sharpness, harshness, unpleasantness, rudeness of manners.”[1]