From Middle English sotil, soubtil, subtil, borrowed from Old French soutil, subtil, from Latin subtīlis (“fine, thin, slender, delicate”); probably, originally, “woven fine”, and from sub (“under”) + tela (“a web”), from texere (“to weave”). Displaced native Old English smēag.
- Hard to grasp; not obvious or easily understood; barely noticeable.
- Antonym: simple
- The difference is subtle, but you can hear it if you listen carefully.
- 1712, Richard Blackmore, Creation: A Philosophical Poem. Demonstrating the Existence and Providence of a God. In Seven Books, book I, London: Printed for S. Buckley, at the Dolphin in Little-Britain; and J[acob] Tonson, at Shakespear's Head over-against Catherine-Street in the Strand, OCLC 731619916; 5th edition, Dublin: Printed by S. Powell, for G. Risk, G. Ewing, and W. Smith, in Dame's-street, 1727, OCLC 728300884, page 7:
- The mighty Magnet from the Center darts / This ſtrong, tho' ſubtile Force, thro' all the Parts: / Its active Rays ejaculated thence, / Irradiate all the wide Circumference.
- (of a thing) Cleverly contrived.
- (of a person or animal) Cunning, skillful.
- Tenuous; rarefied; of low density or thin consistency.
- (obsolete) Refined; exquisite.
- The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.
- subtle in The Century Dictionary, The Century Co., New York, 1911.
- subtle in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.
- “subtle” in The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, →ISBN.