From Middle English sotil, subtil, a borrowing from Old French soutil, later subtil, French subtil, from Latin subtīlis (“fine, thin, slender, delicate”); probably, originally, “woven fine”, and from sub (“under”) + tela (“a web”), from texere (“to weave”).
- Hard to grasp; not obvious or easily understood; barely noticeable.
- 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.
- (hard to grasp): simple
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- subtle in The Century Dictionary, The Century Co., New York, 1911
- subtle in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913
- Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989