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subtile +‎ -ity, from Middle French subtilité, from Latin subtīlitas. See subtle. Doublet of subtlety.



subtility (countable and uncountable, plural subtilities)

  1. (obsolete) Cunning, craftiness.
    • 1894, Margaret, Queen Of Navarre, Tales Of The Heptameron, Vol.III. (of V.):
      —L. By thus glorying in their resistance to the vice of Nature's law—if, indeed, anything natural be vicious—they become not only like inhuman and cruel beasts, but even like the devils whose pride and subtility they borrow.
  2. (obsolete) A cunning scheme; a trick, a con.
    • 1566, William Adlington, The Golden Asse:
      And that such their subtility might not be perceived, they made him a like paire of eares and nose of wax: wherfore you may see that the poore miser for lucre of a little mony sustained losse of his members.
    • 1665, Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year:
      I cannot omit a subtility of one of those quack operators, with which he gulled the poor people to crowd about him, but did nothing for them without money.
  3. Excessive refinement of argument; casuistry.
    • 1802, John Hamilton Moore, The Young Gentleman and Lady's Monitor, and English Teacher's Assistant:
      But these scruples, if not too intricate, are of too extensive consideration for my present purpose, nor are they such as generally occur in common life; and though casuistical knowledge be useful in proper hands, yet it ought by no means to be carelessly exposed, since most will use it rather to lull than awaken their own consciences; and the threads of reasoning, on which truth is suspended, are frequently drawn to such subtility, that common eyes cannot perceive, and common sensibility cannot feel them. 18.
  4. A convoluted or refined argument.
  5. Fineness; subtlety.